Five years after Trump praised Putin in Finland, Biden vows unity against Russia

Finland's President Sauli Niinisto and President Biden smile after their news conference in Helsinki
Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto and President Biden smile after their news conference Thursday in Helsinki, where Biden welcomed Finland to the NATO alliance.
(Sergei Grits / Associated Press)

In the same room where former President Trump praised Vladimir Putin five years ago, President Biden celebrated the expansion of the alliance that has helped stall Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The ceremony in the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, marked the Nordic country’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the end of seven decades of military nonalignment and the expansion of the defense bloc’s eastern boundaries to Finland’s 800-mile border with Russia.

The moment also showed how Russia’s invasion has bolstered European unity since Trump’s trip to the same venue in 2018. During his four years in office, Trump repeatedly criticized NATO, a pillar of U.S. foreign policy for more than half a century, and grumbled that its members were not spending enough on their own defense.


In Finland, Trump met with Putin privately for two hours, then sided with his Russian counterpart over the U.S. intelligence community on whether the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 election, telling reporters Putin was “extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.” Trump’s failure to confront Putin rippled across the globe, undermining European confidence about whether the U.S. would honor the NATO pact to defend its allies in the event of a Russian attack.

On Thursday, Biden offered a markedly different message, declaring that U.S. commitments to NATO are “rock solid” and vowing that the alliance would defend every inch of its territory. He said the group reaffirmed its “unwavering support” for Ukraine as it defends itself against Russia’s assault.

“Putin has already lost the war,” Biden told reporters when asked whether NATO’s decision to delay Ukraine’s membership would prolong the conflict. “What agreement is ultimately reached depends upon Putin and what he decides to do, but there is no possibility of him winning the war in Ukraine.”

The contrast was a glaring reminder of how quickly U.S. political winds can shift — from Trump’s nationalist policies and disdain for multilateralism to Biden’s quest to rebuild American credibility on the world stage and reinvigorate the Western military bloc — and whether they might change direction again in 2024. Biden is poised for a rematch with Trump, who is leading the field for the Republican nomination.

At a news conference Thursday, a Finnish reporter pointed out that a bipartisan group of senators in Washington has struggled to pass a bill that would prevent any U.S. president from withdrawing from NATO without Senate approval or an act of Congress.

“I absolutely guarantee it. There’s no question,” Biden said when asked if the U.S. would remain a reliable partner to the alliance despite political instability at home. “I’m saying as sure as anything could possibly be said about American foreign policy — we will stay connected to NATO.”


Biden ended the NATO summit by highlighting the Western alliance’s newfound unity in the face of Russian aggression.

July 12, 2023

Finns had long resisted joining NATO, but the politics of the question shifted after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. Finland’s major political parties quickly changed their positions on the issue, and Helsinki officially became the alliance’s 31st member in April. Sweden, too, declared that it wanted to join NATO shortly after Russia’s invasion, but its accession was delayed for more than a year by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who argued that Stockholm had been too lenient toward Kurdish militants.

Erdogan lifted his objections before Tuesday’s annual NATO gathering in Vilnius, Lithuania, clearing the path for Sweden’s membership.

Erdogan relented after a White House pressure campaign that included working to strike a deal with the U.S. to sell Ankara new fighter jets. Sweden also promised to help Turkey join the European Union. But Sweden’s NATO membership still has a couple of hurdles to clear. U.S. lawmakers who oppose the sale of F-16 jets have yet to approve the deal, and the Turkish president has said his country’s parliament will not take up Sweden’s NATO bid until October.

Biden ended the NATO summit by highlighting the Western alliance’s newfound unity in the face of Russian aggression. But the bloc is split over Ukraine’s membership.

July 12, 2023

During a meeting with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, Biden recalled threatening Putin with the expansion of NATO if Russia continued to provoke the alliance.

“You may remember my telling you, I said to our friend in the east [Putin] that if he wants the Finland-ization of NATO, he’s going to get the NATO-ization of Finland,” Biden told Niinistö.

Biden said it took him “about three seconds to say yes” when he spoke to Niinistö about Helsinki’s bid, calling it the “fastest ratification that occurred in modern history.”


“We have to stick together,” Niinistö said.

“The world is watching to see, will we do the hard work that matters to forge a better future? Will we stand together?” Biden said at the news conference standing alongside Niinistö. “This week, Finland, the United States and our allies and partners said a resounding, loud yes. Yes, we’ll step up.”