NATO Inches Closer to Russia's Border

Finland's parliament on Wednesday approved legislation that allows the country to join NATO, which means Russia could soon share more of a border with an alliance member.

New entrants into NATO must be approved by all 30 existing members, and both Sweden and Finland are still awaiting acceptance from Hungary and Turkey.

Should Finland join, though, the move would be a blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who once stated that one of his objectives for the war in Ukraine he began on February 24, 2022, was preventing the expansion of NATO on Russia's borders.

During the early weeks of the invasion, Ukraine and Russia also reportedly discussed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky committing to not join NATO in exchange for a ceasefire, but that condition was dropped when peace talks ceased.

Putin's goal of preventing NATO expansion essentially backfired when Finland and Sweden were motived by the invasion of Ukraine to apply to join the military bloc.

Currently, five NATO members (Norway, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Poland) already border Russia or the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. Meanwhile, Finland shares an 830-mile border with Russia, so Russia's border with NATO would more than double if Finland attains membership to the alliance.

Vladimir Putin and a map of Finland/Russia
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday speaks at an event on Russia’s Special Operations Forces Day in Moscow. The inset shows an undated stock illustration of a map of Finland. If the country joins NATO, Putin will have another alliance member on the border of his nation. Photos by JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/MIKHAIL METZEL/SPUTNIK/Getty Images

Before Finland's vote on NATO, the country began construction on Tuesday of a 124-mile-long fence along its border with Russia. Plans for the 10-foot barrier topped with barbed wire were announced in September.

"In the assessment of the Finnish Border Guard, the changed security environment has made it necessary to construct a barrier fence along part of the eastern border," the agency wrote on its website.

The message continued, "Russia implements border control of traffic moving from Russia into Finland, thus preventing attempts at illegal entry. If Russia reduces its border control, this may cause additional pressure at the Finnish end to control illegal entry. Finland cannot rely on the effectiveness of Russian border control."

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz party announced on Wednesday it will back the ratification of Finland and Sweden's bid to join NATO. However, Turkey has indicated it may split the applications as Ankara continues to demand that Sweden provide more security assurances against terrorism and Kurdish separatists.

During a June news conference in Turkmenistan, Putin discussed the possibility of Sweden and Finland joining NATO.

"With Sweden and Finland, we don't have the problems that we have with Ukraine. They want to join NATO, go ahead," Putin said.

The Russian leader went on to add a warning: "But they must understand there was no threat before, while now, if military contingents and infrastructure are deployed there, we will have to respond in kind and create the same threats for the territories from which threats towards us are created."

Russia could eventually find another NATO member along its borders. On Tuesday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters during a visit to Finland that Ukraine will eventually become a member of the alliance.

"NATO allies have agreed that Ukraine will become a member of our alliance, but at the same time, that is a long-term perspective," Stoltenberg said.

Newsweek has reached out to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment.

Updated 03/02/2023 7.35 a.m. E.T.: This story was updated with additional contextual information.