Gallery: Finland welcomed as 31st ally on NATO Day

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Upon depositing its instrument of accession to the North Atlantic Treaty with the U.S. Department of State, Finland officially became NATO's 31st and newest member on Tuesday, the 74th anniversary of the founding of the alliance — a moment long awaited by southern neighbor Estonia.

The occasion was marked by a festive flag-raising ceremony held at NATO Headquarters on Tuesday afternoon.

Estonian leaders were among many to congratulate and warmly welcome their northern neighbor the alliance, nearly two decades following their own accession in March 2004.

"Estonia's national defense stands on three strong pillars — the defense resolve of our people, our state's defense capability and our secure place under the NATO umbrella," Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur (Reform) said according to a press release. "And this common NATO umbrella is stronger and more united than ever. Today's NATO Day is made all the more special by the fact that we can welcome a new and — for us — very special member state into NATO — our good friend and northern neighbor Finland."

In a tweet echoing that same sentiment, the Ministry of Defense also shared a longer video greeting in which Pevkur welcomed the alliance's newest member in Finnish.

President Alar Karis marked the occasion Tuesday by raising the Finnish flag in front of the Presidential Palace in Kadriorg.

"Dear Finnish friends, welcome to NATO!" the Estonian head of state tweeted in Finnish, sharing a video of the Blue Cross Flag being raised.

"Tervetuloa, Nato-liittolaisia!" Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) likewise tweeted.

"Our northern neighbor is now also our neighbor at the NATO table," the Estonian head of state highlighted.

"This is monumental for the security of the Baltic Sea region and the whole alliance," she wrote, adding that she looks forward to welcoming Sweden to the alliance as soon as possible as well.

"This is an important day for Estonia as well," Kallas emphasized. "Estonia and Finland have always been close friends; now we are also allies in NATO. This will strengthen both our common security and the security of the entire Euro-Atlantic region. Finland's membership in NATO also means that we will have new opportunities to deepen our bilateral defense cooperation. Cooperation between Estonia and Finland is closer than ever before."

According to the prime minister, Russia is the greatest threat to NATO, and the alliance must prepare for a long confrontation.

"Over the past year, NATO has taken substantial steps to adapt to the new security situation and reinforce allies' security," she said. "Finland's accession and NATO enlargement also demonstrate that the alliance is playing a key role in ensuring Euro-Atlantic security.

After Finland and Sweden received their invitations to join NATO, the ratification process proceeded rapidly, Kallas said, expressing hope that Sweden's own accession process will move forward quickly and that they can soon welcome Sweden as a fellow ally as well.

"The past has not allowed Estonia and Finland to fight shoulder to shoulder as states, but now this moment has arrived, and this is why today is particularly dear to us," Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) said.

"NATO enlargement is a historic success story," he continued. "Since 1949, 19 countries have joined the alliance. This has reinforced the alliance, ensured security for millions of European citizens and contributed to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic region. NATO's door remains open to all democracies of Europe who share the alliance's values and have the desire and ability to meet the responsibilities that [NATO] membership entails, and who as members would contribute to our common security."

After sunset on Tuesday, the outward facade of Stenbock House will be lit up with the Finnish flag to welcome Finland's accession to NATO. Photos of milestone events of Estonia and Finland's bilateral relations throughout the years will likewise be projected on the building housing the seat of the Estonian government.

Estonia among first to ratify

NATO ambassadors signed the accession protocols for Finland and Sweden together at NATO Headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday, July 5 last year.

A day later, the Riigikogu ratified them at an extraordinary sitting with 79 votes.

Canada was the first NATO member state to ratify the two countries' protocols, doing so later on Tuesday already. Denmark, Norway and Iceland all likewise preceded Estonia in ratifying them as well, however, as noted by EKRE MP and Foreign Affairs Committee member Henn Põlluaas at the extraordinary Riigikogu sitting on July 6, all it took in those four countries to do so was a government decision.

With that Wednesday's vote, Estonia became the first NATO member state to ratify Finland and Sweden's accession to NATO specifically via parliament.

Together with Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, Estonia itself officially joined NATO on March 29, 2004.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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