President Biden on Tuesday signed the U.S.’ ratification of Finland and Sweden’s membership in NATO, offering what he said was “proof” that the Western alliance’s “door remains open to countries in Europe,” despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s warning against further expansion.
Mr. Putin justified his invasion of Ukraine in February in part as a rebuke to NATO, which has expanded steadily toward Russia in the decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union. But instead of sowing discord in the alliance, his war is poised to add two historically neutral new members to NATO and vastly expanded the alliance’s border with Russian territory.
With Mr. Biden’s signature, the U.S. is the 23rd of 30 current NATO allies to ratify the two countries’ accession into the alliance. Mr. Biden urged the remaining member countries to sign off on Finland and Sweden’s membership “as quickly as possible.”
“Putin thought he could break us apart,” Mr. Biden said. “Instead, he’s getting exactly what he did not want.”
The Senate approved the two Nordic countries’ membership last week by an overwhelming 95-1 margin, with the sole objection coming from Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, who argued that further NATO expansion will distract the U.S. from confronting China’s rising threat.
The vote marked a notable show of bipartisan support for the Western alliance’s expansion spurred on by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“In a moment when Putin’s Russia has shattered peace and security in Europe, when autocrats are challenging the very foundations of a rule-based order, the strength of the Transatlantic Alliance, and America’s commitment to NATO is more important than has ever been,” Mr. Biden said.
NATO‘s proposed expansion brings two high-tech, westernized military forces into the alliance. The addition of Finland would more than double the size of Russia’s land border with NATO countries.
Both countries, which have long resisted formal ties to NATO, submitted their bids to join the alliance in May. President Sauli Niinisto of Finland and Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made the post-World War II alliance increasingly vital to their countries’ security.
Both Sweden and Finland will require the endorsement of the remaining NATO members before beginning the process of joining the alliance. NATO officials in Brussels expect the accession period to go quickly.
Turkey initially opposed Finland and Sweden’s accession over the two countries’ approach toward the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a group that Ankara considers to be a terrorist group. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lifted his country’s objections in a trilateral deal with Sweden and Finland which he announced at the start of the NATO summit in June.
The deal paved the way for Mr. Biden to send the ratification protocols to the Senate in July, and the Senate leadership rushed to approve the measure before adjourning for the August recess.
The war that sparked the NATO expansion drive ground on Tuesday, with Russian and Ukrainian forces battling for control across large swaths of Ukraine’s southern and eastern regions. The Associated Press reported that powerful explosions were heard at a Russian air base in Crimea, killing at least one person and several others were wounded, Russian authorities said.
Russia’s Defense Ministry denied the Saki base on the Black Sea had been shelled and said instead that munitions had blown up there. But Ukrainian social media sites were quick to claim the base was targeted by Ukrainian-fired long-range missiles.
Earlier Tuesday, Ukrainian officials reported at least three Ukrainian civilians were killed and 23 wounded by Russian shelling in 24 hours, including an attack close to the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the AP reported. Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of shelling the power station, Europe’s biggest nuclear plant, stoking international fears of a meltdown.
— This article was based in part on wire service reports.