Biden is Closing Out His Europe Trip by Showcasing New NATO Member Finland

HELSINKI (AP) -- President Joe Biden is closing out a five-day trip to Europe on Thursday standing alongside Nordic leaders in an effort to show NATO's expanding power and influence against a burgeoning Russia.

The brief stop in the shoreline Finnish capital is the coda to a Biden tour that was carefully sketched to highlight the growth of the military alliance that the president says has fortified itself since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Finland joined as NATO's newest member earlier this year, an entry that effectively doubled the alliance's border with Russia.

"I've been doing this a long time," Biden said as he opened a meeting with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö at the presidential palace in Helsinki. "I don't think NATO has ever been stronger."

Indeed, Biden arrived in Helsinki after what he deemed a successful annual NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, where allies agreed to language that would further pave the way for Ukraine to also become a member. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the summit's outcome "a significant security victory" for his country but nonetheless expressed disappointment Kyiv did not get an outright invitation to join NATO.

Biden and other administration officials also held what aides said were pivotal conversations with Ankara shortly before Turkey reversed course and dropped its objections to Sweden joining NATO.

"I'm feeling good about the trip," Biden told reporters Wednesday before the flight to Finland. "You know, we accomplished every goal we set out to accomplish."

And despite Zelenskyy's expressed frustrations, Biden -- who met with the Ukrainian leader Wednesday afternoon in Vilnius -- said Thursday that Zelenskyy "ended up being very happy."

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.

While in Finland, Biden also was meeting with 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.

It's the third such U.S.-Nordic leaders' joint meeting between a U.S. president and heads of the five Nordic nations. Previous summits were held in Stockholm in 2013 and in Washington in 2016.

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.

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 non-aligned, 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.

Biden's visit follows U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken's trip to Finland in early June, when he said in a speech at the Helsinki City Hall that Finland's membership in NATO was "a sea change that would have been unthinkable a little more than a year earlier."

Among other things, Blinken and Finland's then-Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto signed a U.S.-Finland cooperation deal in advanced wireless communications including research and development of next-generation 6G network technology.

The deal is relevant not only to Finland, which is home to wireless technology and network infrastructure provider Nokia Corp. -- a global leader in the field -- but also to Washington, which is seemingly trying to contain China's ambitions to dominate the mobile network industry through Huawei and other Chinese technology companies.