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Sweden confirms decision to apply for Nato membership

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson called it “a historic change in our country’s security policy” as she addressed legislators.

Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and the Moderate Party's leader Ulf Kristersson give a news conference in Stockholm.
Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and the Moderate Party's leader Ulf Kristersson give a news conference in Stockholm.
Image: Henrik Montgomery/TT

SWEDEN’S PRIME MINISTER has announced that the country will join Finland in seeking Nato membership in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The historic shift, which comes after more than 200 years of military non-alignment in the Nordic country, is likely to upset Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“The government has decided to inform NATO that Sweden wants to become a member of the alliance,” Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson told reporters. 

“We are leaving one era and beginning another,” she said, adding that Sweden’s NATO ambassador would “shortly” inform Nato.

The announcement came after a debate in parliament earlier today showed that there is huge support for joining Nato.

Andersson called it “a historic change in our country’s security policy” as she addressed legislators in the Swedish capital Stockholm.

“Sweden needs formal security guarantees that come with membership in Nato,” Andersson said, adding that the country was acting together with Finland, whose government announced on Sunday it would seek to join the alliance.

The move was essentially a done deal after Andersson’s Social Democratic Party on Sunday dropped its long-held opposition to Nato membership, giving those in favour a clear majority in parliament.

“The Swedish government’s intent is to apply for Nato membership. A historic day for Sweden,” foreign minister Ann Linde wrote on Twitter.

“With a broad support from political parties in the parliament, the conclusion is that Sweden will stand stronger together with allies in NATO.”

European Council President Charles Michel commended the country “on their decision for the benefit of collective security and defense”, adding that EU contribution to Nato deterrence is “increasingly invaluable”. 

Once a regional military power, Sweden has avoided military alliances since the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

Like Finland it remained neutral throughout the Cold War, but formed closer relations with Nato after the Soviet collapse.

Public opinion in both countries was firmly against joining Nato until Russia’s 24 February invasion of Ukraine, after which polls indicated a dramatic shift in favour of membership.

The governments in Finland and Sweden responded by swiftly initiating discussions across political parties about Nato membership and reaching out to the US, Britain, Germany and other Nato countries for their support.

In Helsinki, US Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said there is “very significant” support in Congress and that he expects swift ratification.

He said he hoped a vote could be held before the August recess.

The Kremlin has repeatedly warned the move would have destabilising consequences for security in Europe.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said today that Moscow “does not have a problem” with Sweden or Finland as they apply for Nato membership, but that “the expansion of military infrastructure on to this territory will of course give rise to our reaction in response”.

russia-ukraine-war-nato-explainer Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson speaks during the parliamentary debate on the Swedish application for Nato membership. Source: AP/PA Images

“We are not convinced that Finland and Sweden joining NATO will somehow strengthen or improve the security architecture on our continent,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

“This is a serious issue, an issue that raises our concern, and we will follow very carefully what will be the consequences of this accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO in a practical sense in terms of our security, which must be ensured in an absolutely unconditional manner,” he said.

But he also pointed out that in comparison with Ukraine, Russia did not have any territorial disputes with Finland or Sweden.

Earlier today, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the decision was a “grave mistake with far-reaching consequences.”

Moscow has warned Finland, with which it shares a 1,300 kilometre border, that it would take “reciprocal steps”.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto spoke with Putin on Saturday about the country’s application for Nato membership.

In the Swedish parliament, only the small Left and Green parties objected to seeking Nato membership.

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Andersson said Sweden would refuse nuclear weapons or permanent Nato bases on its soil – similar conditions as neighbouring Norway and Denmark insisted on when the alliance was formed after the Second World War.

Though Nato officials have expressed hopes for a quick ratification process, all 30 current Nato members must agree to let Finland and Sweden in the door.

Turkey voiced some objections last week, accusing the two countries of supporting Kurdish militants and others whom Turkey considers to be terrorists.

Swedish defence minister Peter Hultqvist told public broadcaster SVT that a Swedish delegation would be sent to Ankara to discuss the issue.

With reporting from © AFP 2022

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