2nd Jun 2023

Sweden to join Finland in applying for Nato

  • Stockholm: formal application expected next week (Photo: Neil Howard)
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Sweden has signalled it will follow Finland in applying to join Nato, as Switzerland also mulls closer ties with the Western alliance.

"The party will work toward Sweden applying for membership in Nato," Sweden's ruling centre-left Social Democrats party said after a meeting of its board in Stockholm on Sunday (15 May).

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"Sweden needs the formal security guarantees that come with membership in Nato," Swedish prime minister Magdalena Andersson also said.

"The Russian invasion of Ukraine has deteriorated the security situation for Sweden," Swedish foreign minister Ann Linde added.

Sweden's decision came after neighbouring Finland, last week, also opted to end decades of non-alignment by joining Nato.

The Swedish application is expected next week, while Finland formalised its bid on Sunday.

The Finnish president, Sauli Niinisto, also phoned Russian president Vladimir Putin on Sunday to inform him of Finland's decision. The call came after previous Russian threats against the Nordic move, but Putin sounded "calm and cool", Niinisto reported.

Finland and Sweden already meet Nato's military and political criteria, but their applications must be approved and ratified by all 30 existing Nato states.

The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, said at a Nato meeting in Berlin on Saturday he was unhappy Finland and Sweden had in the past given shelter to Kurdish separatist groups that Turkey calls terrorists.

"They need to stop supporting terrorist organizations," he said.

"This is not a threat, this is not a negotiation where we're trying to leverage our interests. This is not populism either. This is clearly about two potential member states' support for terrorism," he added.

But the US and senior Nato officials played down the Turkish concerns.

"I heard almost across the board, very strong support [for Sweden and Finland] joining the alliance," US secretary of state Antony Blinken said in Berlin.

"If that's what they choose to do, I'm very confident that we will reach consensus on that," he said.

"If these countries decide to seek membership in Nato we will be able to welcome them, to find all conditions for consensus to be met," Nato's deputy-secretary general Mircea Geoana said.

Canada, Croatia, Germany, and Romania also spoke out in favour of a speedy ratification process to send a firm message to Russia.

"We must make sure that we will give them [Finland and Sweden] security guarantees, there must not be a transition period, a grey zone, where their status is unclear," German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said.

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said Russia's war in Ukraine was going much worse than expected by the Kremlin.

"They failed to take Kyiv, they are pulling back from around Kharkiv, their major offensive in Donbas has stalled. Russia is not achieving its strategic objectives," he said in Germany.

For its part, the Swiss defence ministry is currently drawing up a report on security options for its government in the wake of Russia's war.

The report might recommend joint military exercises and arms procurement with Nato, but is unlikely to suggest full membership, Reuters reported, citing Paelvi Pulli, a senior Swiss defence ministry official.

Switzerland's neutrality is enshrined in its constitution.

But there is "unease" in the country that this status was stopping the Swiss from doing more to help Ukraine, such as exporting arms, Pull noted.

A survey last month by pollster Sotomo showed 56 percent of Swiss wanted closer Nato ties and 33 percent supported joining Nato — a significant jump of over 10 points in each case compared to historical averages.

"Clearly the Russian invasion of Ukraine has changed a lot of minds," Sotomo's Michael Hermann told Reuters.

Russia warns against Finland and Sweden Nato bid

Finland is expected to kick off a debate on the country's potential Nato membership. But Russia has clearly voiced opposition towards any potential enlargement of the western military alliance.

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Finnish public support for joining Nato has risen to record figures since Russia's aggression against Ukraine. Finland's historic move puts pressure on Sweden to also move towards joining the military alliance.


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