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Finland becomes NATO’s 31st member amid regional tensions

Finland officially joined NATO on Tuesday, becoming the 31st member of the Western military alliance and ending its decades-long policy of neutrality. The move was prompted by Russia Ukraine war, which raised security concerns in the Nordic region.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Finland into the alliance at a ceremony in Brussels, where he raised the Finnish flag alongside the flags of the other 30 members. He said Finland’s membership was “a good day for Finland’s security, for Nordic security, and for NATO as a whole.”

Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö, Defense Minister Antti Kaikkonen and Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto attended the ceremony, along with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other NATO foreign ministers.

Niinistö said Finland’s decision to join NATO was “a natural step” in response to the changing security environment in Europe. He said Finland would contribute to NATO’s collective defense and crisis management operations, as well as to its dialogue with Russia.

Haavisto said Finland’s main objective at the NATO meeting was to emphasize the alliance’s support for Ukraine, which has been fighting Russian-backed separatists in its eastern regions since 2014. He said Finland sought to promote stability and security throughout the Euro-Atlantic region.

Finland shares a 1,340-kilometer (832-mile) border with Russia and has a history of wars and conflicts with its eastern neighbor. Finland was part of the Russian Empire until 1917, when it declared its independence amid the Russian Revolution. It fought two wars against the Soviet Union during World War II, losing parts of its territory.

Finland maintained a policy of neutrality during the Cold War, balancing its relations with both the West and the East. It joined the European Union in 1995 but remained outside NATO, along with its neighbor Sweden.

In May 2022, Finland and Sweden jointly applied for NATO membership, citing Russia’s aggression as a threat to their sovereignty and territorial integrity. They planned to enter the alliance simultaneously, but Sweden’s bid has been delayed by Turkey and Hungary, which have raised objections over various issues.

Turkey ratified Finland’s membership last week, becoming the last country to do so. All NATO members must vote unanimously to admit a new country into the alliance. Hungary has yet to ratify Sweden’s accession, and it remains unclear when it will do so.

Stoltenberg said he hoped Sweden could join NATO in the coming months. He said Sweden was “a highly valued partner” of NATO and that its membership would strengthen the alliance’s cohesion and deterrence.

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