Finland has been approved as the 31st member of NATO, following the Turkish parliament's decision to back the country's application. The move comes after months of delay by Turkey, which accused Finland of supporting "terrorists." Sweden, which applied to join NATO at the same time as Finland last May, is still being blocked by Ankara over similar complaints. However, both Finland and Sweden abandoning their longstanding commitments to neutrality have significant strategic implications for NATO and Russia.
For Finland, the decision to join NATO was prompted by Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which the country saw as a direct threat to its own security.
With a 1,340 km (832 mile) border with Russia and one of the most powerful arsenals of artillery pieces in Western Europe, Finland is well aware of the potential risks posed by its neighbor. Joining NATO is seen as a way to strengthen the country's security and improve stability in the region.
One of NATO's founding principles is collective defense, meaning that an attack on one member nation is treated as an attack on them all. With Finland now set to become the seventh NATO country on the Baltic Sea, this further isolates Russia's coastal access at St Petersburg and its small exclave of Kaliningrad. For Russian President Vladimir Putin, Finland's accession is a significant strategic setback. He sent his army into Ukraine last year in the expectation that it would check NATO's expansion and weaken the West, but it has achieved the opposite.
Russia's foreign ministry condemned Finland's decision, calling it ill-considered and based on "Russophobic hysteria." However, Finnish public opinion has been radically altered by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Almost overnight last spring, support for NATO membership leapt from an underwhelming one-third of Finns to almost 80%. Finland simply believes it stands a better chance of not being attacked by Russia if it joins the alliance.
Sweden's decision to apply to join NATO has also significant implications for the region. Unlike Finland, it does not share a border with Russia, but its application is seen as a sign that it is moving away from its longstanding neutrality. Turkey's ongoing hostility to Sweden is clear, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the country of embracing Kurdish militants and allowing them to demonstrate on the streets of Stockholm. However, if Sweden's application is successful, it would further strengthen NATO's presence in the region and increase pressure on Russia.
Ankara's decision to ratify Finland's membership clears the way for one of the most important moments in NATO's recent history. The alliance has expanded significantly since the end of the Cold War, but Finland and Sweden's accession marks a significant shift in the balance of power in the region. For NATO, it means a stronger presence on the Baltic Sea and a greater ability to counter Russian aggression. For Russia, it is a strategic setback that will only serve to increase tensions in the region.