What is Nato and why is Finland joining?
Turkey’s parliament has approved Finland’s bid to join Nato, meaning the way is now clear to join the bloc.
Nato is a the defensive alliance of North American and European countries whose members are currently helping Ukraine in its war against Russia.
Finland applied to join the bloc last year, along with its neighbour Sweden, because it was concerned about Russian aggression. Turkey was the last country to approve its entry.
What is Nato?
Nato – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – was formed in 1949 by 12 countries, including the US, UK, Canada and France.
It currently has 30 members, who agree to help one another if they come under attack.
The organisation’s original goal was to challenge Russian expansion in Europe after World War Two.
After the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, many of the Eastern European countries which used to be its allies in the Warsaw Pact were granted Nato membership.
Russia has long argued that Nato’s acceptance of Eastern European countries threatens its security. It has vehemently opposed Ukraine’s request to join the alliance, fearing this would encroach too closely on its territory.
Why do Finland and Sweden want to join Nato?
Finland has a 1,340km (832 mile) land border with Russia, while Sweden faces it across the Baltic Sea.
For seven decades, both thought it safer to remain non-aligned rather than to join Nato in opposition to Russia.
But after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they both asked to be given entry to the alliance as soon as possible.
The two countries would add 280,000 troops (including reservists) to Nato’s combined forces, and more than 200 combat aircraft.
All current Nato members have to approve new countries joining through votes in their parliaments. Hungary and Turkey were the last countries to vote for Finland’s entry.
Hungary did so on 27 March and Turkey on 30 March.
Why was Turkey’s vote so important to Finland and Sweden joining?
When Finland and Sweden applied to join Nato, Turkey’s government complained that they had been harbouring Turkish citizens who it calls “terrorists”. It demanded their extradition.
Since Sweden was the main focus of Turkey’s complaints, Finland negotiated a settlement with Turkey on its own.
It now hopes it will be able to join Nato in time for the bloc’s July summit in Lithuania.
However, Turkey is still criticising Sweden for harbouring “Kurdish militants” and neither Turkey’s nor Hungary’s governments have yet asked their parliaments to approve its entry.
How are Nato countries supporting Ukraine?
Many of the alliance’s member states have provided Ukraine with weapons and ammunition to help it defend itself against Russia..
The US is sending 31 Abrams tanks, the UK 14 Challenger 2 tanks, Germany 14 Leopard 2 tanks and Norway eight Leopard 2 tanks.
The US has also sent armoured fighting vehicles such as the Stryker and the Bradley.
In addition, the US and UK have sent Ukraine long-range missile systems such as Himars, which have been striking targets behind Russia’s front lines.
Several Nato countries have provided howitzers and self-propelled guns, while Turkey has sold Ukraine several Bayraktar TB2 armed drones.
The US and others have supplied air defence systems to shoot down Russian cruise missiles and drones over Ukraine.
The anti-tank weapons that the US and UK have supplied, such as Javelin and Nlaw, were crucial in turning back Russia’s advance on Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, in spring 2022.
Nato countries are also aiming to ramp up their supplies of artillery shells and ammunition to Ukraine.
Why won’t Nato countries give more help to Ukraine?
Poland and Slovakia are sending Ukraine Soviet-era Mig fighter jets, but Nato countries are not sending the US-made F-16s it has been asking for.
Nato countries also fear that if Ukraine were to use these jets to strike targets inside Russia, it could draw them deeper into the war.
Nato countries are not sending their troops to Ukraine, or imposing a no-fly zone over the country, again for fear of provoking a direct conflict with Russia.
However, Nato countries have now stationed 40,000 troops in eastern Europe – on the territory of alliance members such as Lithuania and Poland.
They also have another 300,000 troops on high alert in Europe.
Why isn’t Ukraine in Nato?
Nato told Ukraine in 2008 that it could join the bloc at some point in the future, but declined its recent request for “fast-track” membership.
This is because Article 5 of the Nato charter says that if one member is attacked, all members should come to its defence.
If Ukraine was made a member, Nato countries would technically have to go to war with Russia.