“Today is a historic day. In a few hours, we will welcome Finland as the 31st member of our alliance. This will make Finland safer and NATO stronger…removing Moscow’s miscalculation about NATO’s readiness.”
The aforementioned words were from North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on the 4th of April, the day the US-backed military alliance commemorated its 74th anniversary, and officially welcomed Finland as its 31st member. The NATO chief further said that it is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that has brought Europe closer and achieved the opposite of what Russian President Vladimir Putin had envisioned: slamming the alliance’s “door shut” and a weaker NATO influence alongside Russia’s borders. The Finnish flag was raised at the NATO headquarters for the first time in a historic move on the accession day. Turkey was the last of the allies to ratify Finland’s accession papers as another Nordic country, Sweden also awaits approval. Both Helsinki and Stockholm seek to shun their neutrality and military non-alignment with the changing security landscape in Europe premised on the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.
Stoltenberg also termed Putin’s nuclear rhetoric — that more obtrusively came to light in recent days — as “dangerous and reckless”, adding that so far he had seen no changes in Moscow’s posture regarding the war that has entered its 14th month with countless lives lost and millions of Ukrainians displaced. Putin hinted that his country would deploy tactical nukes on Belarusian territory, earning condemnation from Germany and the EU, with the latter calling it direct intimidation and a new kind of “nuclear gamble” — as termed by European Union Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell in Brussels.
The accession of a new member to NATO, as anticipated, did not sit well with Moscow. Seen as a provocative move, the Kremlin reacted with affirmation of more countermeasures to “ensure security” and the need to safeguard national interests while also calling the development a perilous historic mistake.
“The Kremlin believes that this is another aggravation of the situation. NATO enlargement is an encroachment on the security and national interests of the Russian Federation. This forces us to take countermeasures to ensure our own security both tactically and strategically,” Ruptly news agency reported Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov as saying. Isolated to a great degree on the global stage, last month, the International Criminal Court also issued arrest warrants for Vladimir Putin over Russia’s war crimes committed in Ukraine. A day later, the Russian president visited Crimea on the anniversary of the peninsula’s annexation.
The accession to NATO will guarantee protection to Finland in the case of war — a scenario greatly feared in countries neighboring Russia with the latter’s growing imperialist ambitions —based on the NATO principle that an attack on one member of the alliance is an attack on all. And Finland has a history. The nation that just held its parliamentary polls and elected the rightwing National Coalition Party last week in a blow to Sanna Marin’s Social Democratic Party or SDP, has bitter memories of the 1939-40 Russo-Finnish War, also remembered as the Winter War, that began with the Soviet invasion due to “mistrust” between the two countries.
Moscow’s imperialist ambitions that are not necessarily new and rather date back to the 16th century, coupled with the resurrected fears of war being at their doorstep, makes for the urgent need by European states to push towards an end to the brutal invasion of Ukraine that already has had an impact on the global economy and energy and food prices. Finland is no exception here, hence the urgency to secure NATO’s backing.
Pertinent to mention here is also the recent visit by French President Emmanuel Macron and European Union Chief Ursula Von der Leyen to Beijing in an attempt to convince President Xi to not arm Russia with Chinese weapons and discuss a peace plan for Ukraine. Prior to that, on March 20, Xi paid a visit to Moscow which experts say was centered around aligning both China and Russia towards working for a global order that would seek to break Washington and its Western allies’ hegemony on the global stage rather than aiming towards peace in ravaged Ukraine.
In a contrasting move and just a day after Xi met his Russian counterpart, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made a surprise visit to Kyiv and met Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. Kishida also laid a floral wreath to honor the deceased of Bucha where Russian soldiers committed atrocities against civilians.
The Ukraine invasion has undoubtedly consolidated and united the West and its staunch allies, but it has also made the polarization in attitudes in international politics evident more than ever. On February 23, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling for “a comprehensive, just and lasting peace” between Russia and Ukraine on the first anniversary of the war. Despite 141 of the assembly’s 193 members voting in favor, statements by many countries’ representatives pointed to prominent differences over the matter and how it could be resolved. Precisely, liberal democracies back the United States and its ally states while the autocratic or more authoritarian ones are supporting Russia and China. The divide is not merely strategic but also stems from political ideologies, fundamental values and a range of issues that differ from region to region.
If anything, Ukraine’s invasion has shown that the gap between “the West and the rest” continues to widen in a multipolar world.