President Joe Biden said he and other NATO leaders showed the world that the military alliance remains “more united than ever,” as he on Thursday capped off a trip in Europe meant to demonstrate the force of the international coalition against Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The allies “understand that this fight is not only a fight for the future of Ukraine,” Biden said, noting that it's also about sovereignty and security.
- At this critical moment in history, this inflection point, the world watching to see, will we do the hard work that matters to forge a better future? Will we stand together, will we stand with one another? Will we stay committed to our course? - Biden said. He said the answer was a “resounding yes.”
Earlier Thursday, Biden met with the leaders of other Nordic nations including Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland. Sweden is poised to be admitted as NATO’s 32nd member country after it pledged more cooperation with Turkey on counterterrorism efforts while backing Ankara’s bid to join the European Union. Finland gained NATO membership earlier this year.
Both Finland and Sweden abandoned a history of military nonalignment and sought to join NATO alliance after Russia invaded Ukraine last year.
Biden's brief stop in the shoreline Finnish capital is the coda to a tour that was carefully sketched to highlight the growth of a military alliance that the president says has fortified itself since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Finland's admittance to NATO effectively doubled the alliance’s border with Russia.
A significant security victory
Biden arrived in Helsinki after what he deemed a successful NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, where allies agreed to language that would further pave the way for Ukraine to also become a futuremember. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the summit's outcome “a significant security victory" for his country but nonetheless expressed disappointment at not getting an outright invitation to join.
Biden and other administration officials also held what aides said were pivotal conversations with Turkey before that country dropped its objections to Sweden joining NATO.
Biden said he felt good about the trip. “We accomplished every goal we set out to accomplish,” he told reporters Wednesday before the flight to Finland.
And despite Zelenskyy's expressed frustrations, Biden — who met with the Ukrainian leader Wednesday in Vilnius — said Thursday that Zelenskyy “ended up being very happy.”
The tenets of multilateralism
The U.S. president’s trip this week — a meticulously choreographed endeavor meant to showcase international opposition to Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine — played out nearly five years to the day since then-President Donald Trump infamously stood alongside Putin in Helsinki and cast doubt on his own intelligence apparatus. That was just days after Trump tore through a NATO summit where he disparaged the alliance and from which he threatened to withdraw the United States.
In contrast, Biden has heartily embraced the tenets of multilateralism that Trump shunned, speaking repeatedly of having to rebuild international coalitions after four tumultuous years led by his predecessor. The garrulous former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman is in his element at summits abroad, and speaks of how his background in international policy is proof positive that decades of experience on the world stage has mattered for the presidency.
Opening the broader meeting, Niinistö said his Nordic counterparts had one overriding objective: “guarantee the future — security-wise, environmental-wise and technology-wise.” Biden added that the “nations around the table not only share common history, but we share common challenges, and I would add presumptuously, common values.”
Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, who saw Biden in the Oval Office last week, lightheartedly remarked to Biden that “I have met you more than I’ve met my own family.”
The talks at the seaside Presidential Palace in the heart of Helsinki were to focus on closer cooperation between the Nordic countries and the United States on security, environment and technology issues, Niinistö’s office said. Biden also scheduled a news conference with Niinistö before departing for Washington.
U.S. president came to Finland to honor the country itself
Biden is the sixth U.S president to visit Finland, a country of 5.5 million that has hosted several U.S.-Soviet and U.S.-Russia summits. The first involved President Gerald Ford, who would sign the so-called Helsinki Accords with more than 30 other nations in 1975.
But Charly Salonius-Pasternak, senior researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, noted that Biden's visit marked the first time a sitting U.S. president came to Finland to honor the country itself, rather than as a neutral location for meeting Russian leaders or other similar reasons.
“The fact that Biden has chosen to go specifically to Finland for Finland is symbolic and, in some ways, very concrete,” he said. "It’s a kind of deterrence messaging that only the United States can do.”
In the Cold War era, Finland acted as a neutral buffer between Moscow and Washington, and its leaders played a balancing act between the East and West, maintaining good relations with both superpowers.
Finland and neighboring Sweden gave up their traditional political neutrality by joining the European Union in 1995 but both remained militarily nonaligned, with opinion polls showing a clear majority of their citizens opposed to joining NATO. That changed quickly after Feb. 24, 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine.