As Russia seemingly doubles down on its historic blunder of the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, the Nato Alliance has been strengthened with the formal accession of Finland as its 31st member, adding some 1,300km of border frontier to the opposed blocs.
Announced on 4 April, Finland’s move into Nato has been months in the making since it and fellow Scandinavian country Sweden applied to join the Alliance in mid-May last year. Traditionally neutral, Finland sought to assure its own security in the wake of Moscow’s decision to remake the boundaries of the world through force.
In that respect, Moscow has succeeded, but not in the way it would have envisaged. Finland brings to Nato one of the more capable Arctic land domain forces on the continent, one at home in operations amid heavily forested terrain or the frozen conditions of the High North. Land equipment operated by the Finnish Army include the Leopard 2A4 and Leopard 2A6 main battle tanks, the CV90 infantry fighting vehicle, and the advanced K9 self-propelled artillery gun from South Korea.
In the naval domain, Finland’s maritime forces have tended to focus on the littorals and the country’s exclusive economic zone using guided missile corvettes that while unable to sustain long endurance operations at sea, have considerable kinetic capabilities.
However, Finland is embarking on a significant naval programme to build four guided missile corvettes under the Pohjanmaa class programme. At 117m in length and displacing 4,300t, the Pohjanmaa corvettes will be driven by a combined diesel and gas (CODLAG) propulsion configuration and equipped with both canister-launched and vertical-launched air-to-surface and air-to-air missile systems.
Finally, in the air, Finland has long-since relied on the US for its combat fighters, having operated the F/A-18C Hornet since 1995 and opting in 2022 to acquire 64 F-35A stealth fighters from Lockheed Martin in a deal worth more than $9bn.
Rolling out the red carpet
Finland’s accession was warmly greeted by fellow Nato members and the Alliance, following the final ratification of all member state parliaments after holdouts Turkey and Hungary finally relented following months of likely complex negotiations. Both Turkey and Hungary, while Nato members, also have close ties with Russia.
Welcoming Finland to the Alliance, Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also remarked on Russia’s miscalculation that aggression on its frontier would deter countries from joining the transatlantic security organisation.
Stoltenberg said: “Instead of less Nato, [Russian President Vladimir Putin] has achieved the opposite; more Nato and our door remains firmly open.
“Finland is safer and Nato is stronger with Finland as an ally. Your forces are substantial and highly capable, your resilience is second to none and for many years troops from Finland and Nato countries have worked side-by-side as partners. From today, we stand together as allies.”
During Finland’s accession ceremony at Nato headquarters in Brussels, UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said: “Today will go into the history books for Nato as a defensive Alliance. 31 countries strong, we welcome Finland to the table.
“Let us be clear that our door remains open. We will welcome further allies with open arms, and we continue to push for Sweden’s swift accession.”
The UK has committed more than £6.5bn in military, humanitarian and economic support to Ukraine since the start of the invasion and pledging to commit a similar number in the coming 12 months. More than 10,000 Ukrainian recruits have passed through combat infantry training at sites in the UK, while Ukraine artillery and tank crews recently completed training on AS90 155mm artillery and Challenger 2 main battle tanks, which have also been granted to Kyiv.
What of Sweden’s Nato aspirations?
Sweden’s own plans to join Nato, applied for at the same time as Finland, have been delayed following political objections by Turkey, and reservations from Hungary. Swedish officials were invited and attended Finland’s accession, doubtless part of a concerted effort by Nato to pressurise its apparently wayward members approve Stockholm’s application.
Officials from leading Nato member states publicly urged both Turkey and Hungary to accept Sweden into the Alliance, with Cleverly calling for both countries to provide a “clear path” to enable Stockholm’s accession “as swiftly as possible”.
Alongside the Nato Foreign Minister’s meeting on 4 April, the UK Government stated in a release that Cleverly would meet his Turkish and Hungarian counterparts, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Péter Szijjártó respectively, to “impress this urgency”.
However, a general election in Turkey, due to take place in May, means that any approval from Ankara will likely not take place until after the results have been determined. It is not known whether a change in power in Turkey would have a positive impact on its stance on Sweden’s Nato membership.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been at the centre of political power for more than two decades, serving as prime minister from 2003 to 2014, and president since then. Constitutional changes have since cemented his grip on power, amid accusations of a slip from democracy into authoritarian rule.
A particular sticking point for Turkey, while still being a Nato member, came in its exclusion from the US-led F-35 stealth fighter programme in 2019 – an aircraft now widely operated by Nato countries – following Ankara’s decision to acquire the Russian S-400 ground-to-air defence system. Turkey had been a founding partner of the multinational F-35 effort and was cited to be in the running for key logistics locations to support the thousands of F-35 aircraft expected to be manufactured over the lifetime of the programme.
Does Sweden have an alternative option?
It remains to be seen whether Turkey will allow Sweden’s accession to Nato, at the risk of being considered a pariah by other members. In many respects, Sweden’s membership could be considered secondary to Finland’s which is the real crown jewel in the latest round of Nato expansion.
Already signed up to several bilateral security deals with countries such as the UK, with the two countries also members of the Joint Expeditionary Force military grouping, Sweden is also a member of the Nato-led Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council as a Partnership for Peace country.
However, Nato officials have often remarked about the potential, with the successful accession of Sweden and Finland, of turning the Baltic Sea into a ‘Nato lake’, a move that would place considerable pressure on the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad that relies on maritime access for military resupply.