Finland joining the NATO alliance could prompt Russia to increase its nuclear arsenal stationed in the Arctic circle, analysts have warned.
The Nordic country officially joined the world’s biggest military alliance on Tuesday, becoming its 31st member in a historic realignment of Europe’s defences spurred by Vladimir Putin‘s illegal invasion of Ukraine.
Helsinki’s strategic shift, which ended decades of military non-alignment, has doubled the length of the US-led alliance’s land border with Russia and drew an angry warning of ‘countermeasures’ from the Kremlin.
While Moscow did not specify what these measures could be, Russia’s defence chief said on Tuesday that Belarusian warplanes had been upgraded to carry Russian nuclear warheads, while Putin has said he plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in the neighbouring country.
Analysts have also warned Moscow’s hawkish leaders will view Finland’s NATO ascension as a threat to the Kola Peninsula, where Russian military bases house the world’s largest concentration of nuclear weapons.
Finland joining the NATO alliance could prompt Russia to increase its nuclear arsenal stationed in the Arctic circle, analysts have warned. Pictured: Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with workers as he visits the Tulazheldormash plant, a Russian leading machine-building enterprise, in Tula on April 4
The Nordic country officially joined the world’s biggest military alliance on Tuesday, becoming its 31st member in a historic realignment of Europe’s defences spurred by Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. Pictured: The Finnish flag is raised outside NATO HQ on Tuesday
Finland’s border with Russia stretches 833 miles from the Baltic Sea at its southern-most point to a tripoint where the Russian, Finnish and Norwegian borders meet some 65 miles south of the Barents Sea.
To the east, sits the Kola Peninsula, which is home to the city of Murmansk, where Russia hosts its northern fleet. This includes nuclear-capable submarines.
In October 2022, Norwegian reports said Russia had deployed bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons to Kola Peninsula. Satellite images later appeared to confirm an increase in the bombers stationed in the region.
Russia also carried out tests of all three legs of its nuclear triad in the Arctic.
Writing for security website War on the Rocks, Heli Hautala, a Finnish diplomat, and Nicholas Lokker, of the Center for a New American Security think-tank, warned that with Finland in NATO, Russia will view their northwestern flank as being vulnerable.
‘Nuclear weapons will assume greater prominence in Russian strategy until the country can reconstitute its forces,’ which for now have been diverted to Russia’s war efforts in Ukraine, the analysts write.
‘As Russia attempts to meet the apparent increased threat in northern Europe while its army remains tied down elsewhere, it is likely to double down on aggressive nuclear signalling in the region,’ the pair add in their analysis.
‘Any new NATO infrastructure in Sweden and Finland — such as upgraded airfields, intelligence facilities or, most critically, nuclear weapons — will only intensify Russia’s aggressive posture.’
Hautala and Lokker said ‘Russia’s northwestern flank becomes more vulnerable’ with Finland, and possibly Sweden, joining NATO, noting that ‘the Kola Peninsula is particularly relevant to Russia’s threat perception’.
They described the region as being of ‘central importance’ to Russia’s national security.
NATO’s borders are now also closer to Russia’s second city of St Petersburg.
The expansion could also be perceived as a threat to Russian naval exercises in the Baltic Sea as well as its Kaliningrad exclave, which will soon be surrounded by NATO member states, the pair note.
Joining NATO is significant both symbolically and strategically. From a military point of view, it would allow NATO to reinforce the Baltic states (NATO members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) from the north in the case of a Russian invasion.
With Norway and Finland both in NATO and Sweden looking to join, it also protects other European nations from any Russian incursions from the North.
On the symbolic significance, Hautala and Lokker highlight an interview given by Finnish president Sauli Niinistö in 2022, who recalled a warning he was given by Vladimir Putin himself in 2016.
‘When we look across the border now, we see a Finn on the other side,’ Niinistö said Putin told him at the time. ‘If Finland joins NATO, we will see an enemy.’
Pictured: A nuclear missile test is carried out on the Kola Peninsula (file image)
In October 2022, Norwegian reports said that Russia had also deployed bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons to Kola Peninsula. Satellite images (pictured) later appeared to confirm an increase in the bombers stationed in the region
Russia’s Kola Peninsula is home to the city of Murmansk, where Russia hosts its northern fleet. This includes nuclear-capable submarines (pictured, file photo)
Pictured: A map showing how NATO has expanded since it was founded in 1949
Finland’s foreign minister formally sealed Helsinki’s membership by depositing the accession papers before the Finnish flag was raised between those of France and Estonia to the singing of a choir outside NATO’s gleaming Brussels headquarters.
How does Finland joining NATO benefit the alliance?
As a NATO member, Finland is bound by the alliance’s mutual defence clause, Article 5.
It will benefit not only from its allies’ conventional military assistance but also from their nuclear deterrence.
In return, the Nordic nation, which intends to boost its defence budget by 40 percent by 2026, could contribute some of its military resources to defend the alliance.
The country of 5.5 million people counts just 12,000 professional soldiers.
But it trains more that 20,000 each year through its conscription service programme, giving the army a pool of 900,000 Finns as potential reserves.
This means that in case of war, the army can deploy 280,000 Finnish citizens at any one time.
It has a fleet of 55 F-18 US combat aircraft, which it plans to replace with more advanced F-35s from 2025 onwards, as well as 200 tanks and more than 700 artillery guns.
But the country joining NATO also means hundreds of extra kilometres of border to defend for the alliance.
‘Finland now has the strongest friends and allies in the world,’ NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said.
Putin, he said, had ‘wanted to slam NATO’s door shut. Today we show the world that he failed, that aggression and intimidation do not work’.
Joining NATO puts Finland under the alliance’s Article Five, the collective defence pledge that an attack on one member ‘shall be considered an attack against them all’. This was the guarantee Finnish leaders decided they needed as they watched Putin’s devastating assault on Ukraine.
‘NATO membership strengthens our international position and room for manoeuvre,’ President Niinisto said.
US President Joe Biden said the alliance was strengthened by its newest member and promised to ‘defend every inch of NATO territory’.
But Moscow erupted in fury at the move, which takes its frontier with NATO member states to 1,550 miles, branding it an ‘assault’ on Russia’s security and national interests. ‘This forces us to take countermeasures… in tactical and strategic terms,’ Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Invaded by its giant neighbour, the Soviet Union, in 1939, Finland stayed out of NATO throughout the Cold War.
Now its membership brings a potent military into the alliance with a wartime strength of 280,000 and one of Europe’s largest artillery arsenals.
Senior NATO military commander Admiral Rob Bauer told AFP Finland had so far not requested its new allies station troops on its soil.
NATO officials say the war in Ukraine has sapped Moscow’s forces, but the alliance is monitoring how Russia responds to gauge its future steps.
Turkey and Hungary, attempting to gain leverage over allies in separate political battles, had delayed Finland’s bid to come under the NATO umbrella – and Stockholm’s progress remains blocked.
Pictured: A Russian fighter jet from the country’s Northern Fleet’s naval aviation group takes off in the Kola Peninsula (file photo)
But last week, the Turkish parliament voted to clear Finland’s final hurdle.
Completing the ratification in well under a year still makes this the fastest membership process in the alliance’s recent history.
NATO was created as a counterweight to the Soviet Union at the onset of the Cold War era that began immediately after the Allies defeated Nazi Germany.
Finland’s arrival nevertheless remains a bittersweet moment for the alliance as the hope had been for Sweden to come on board at the same time.
Helsinki’s first act as a new member was to back Stockholm’s bid.
Budapest and Ankara remain the holdouts after belatedly agreeing to wave through Helsinki’s bid.
Sweden has upset Hungary’s leader Viktor Orban – one of Putin’s closest allies in Europe – by expressing alarm over the rule of law in Hungary.
It has also angered Turkey by refusing to extradite dozens of suspects that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan links to a failed 2016 coup attempt and the decades-long Kurdish independence struggle.
The United States and other NATO members led the calls for Sweden to join as soon as Finland’s flag was fluttering in the cold Brussels breeze.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he believed both countries would take part in a NATO summit in Vilnius this summer as new members.
Ukraine is also pushing for eventual NATO membership, but Western diplomats say that remains a distant prospect.
‘There is no better strategic solution to ensuring strategic security in the Euro-Atlantic region than the membership of Ukraine in the alliance,’ Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said.
Mr Stoltenberg said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was invited to NATO’s Vilnius summit in July.
The focus for the alliance remains on bolstering Kyiv’s capacities to win the war, while moving it towards NATO membership only over the longer term.
Finland’s ascension came as Zelensky and his wife arrived in Poland on Wednesday for a state visit that is meant as a gesture of thanks to the neighboring nation for its crucial support in Ukraine’s defence against Russia’s invasion.
The visit is a rare foray for Zelensky out of Ukraine since Russia unleased the war in February 2022.
A plaque along with Finland’s flag is seen at a roundtable discussion during a joining ceremony at the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting at the Alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, April 4
While it follows visits to the US, Britain, France and Belgium, it stands out from the others because it was announced in advance without the secrecy of past visits.
It is also unusual that the president is joined by the first lady, Olena Zelenska. Marcin Przydacz, the head of Polish President Andrzej Duda’s foreign policy office, described it as Zelensky’s first visit of this kind since the war began.
The trip shines a light on Poland’s rising international role in a new security order that is emerging after Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
Poland is modernising its military with orders of tanks and other equipment from US and South Korean producers, while the US has also beefed up its military presence in Poland.