Sweden enters ‘new era’ with NATO bid

STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Sweden officially announced on Monday that it would seek NATO membership as a deterrent against Russian aggression, ushering in a “new era” as it reverses two centuries of military non-alignment.

AFP BULLETIN/ MANILA

“The government has decided to inform NATO that Sweden wants to join the alliance,” Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson told reporters a day after neighboring Finland made a similar announcement.

“We are leaving one era and beginning another,” Andersson said of his country’s dramatic turnaround less than three months after Russia invaded Ukraine.

The Swedish ambassador to NATO will inform the alliance “shortly”, she said.

“Sweden is one of our closest partners and membership would strengthen the security of the Euro-Atlantic area and Sweden at a critical time,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter. following a phone call with Andersson.

Both Sweden and Finland have expressed a desire to act together on NATO membership. They are expected to submit their nominations jointly this week.

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned on Monday that NATO enlargement could trigger a response from Moscow.

The expansion poses ‘no direct threat to us… but the expansion of military infrastructure in these territories will certainly provoke our response,’ Putin told a televised summit meeting of the Security Treaty Organization. collective, a military alliance led by Moscow.

Andersson acknowledged that Sweden would be “vulnerable” to “attempts to scare and divide us” in the interim period before his candidacy is ratified.

However, Stockholm has received security guarantees from key partners, including the United States, Britain, Germany, France and the Nordic countries, she added.

It provided “that it would not take more than a year” for the 30 members of the alliance to unanimously ratify Sweden’s application for membership.

But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday again confirmed Ankara’s opposition to Sweden and Finland joining NATO, citing the countries’ unclear stance against terrorism.

Turkey has accused Sweden and Finland of harboring militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist said on Monday that Sweden was sending a delegation to Turkey for talks with officials, but Erdogan scathingly rebuffed Stockholm’s diplomatic efforts.

“They say they will come to Turkey on Monday. Will they come and convince us? Excuse us, but they shouldn’t bother.

A diplomatic source said Turkey blocked a statement to NATO on Monday in favor of Sweden and Finland joining and Erdogan alone made the decision.

– Booming support –
Sweden’s announcement was expected after Andersson’s Social Democratic Party backed membership on Sunday, in a dramatic U-turn after opposing the idea since the birth of the Western military alliance.

Six of the eight parties represented in parliament, constituting a very large majority, are in favor of membership. Swedish public support has also risen dramatically to around 50% – with around 20% against.

In Helsinki, support for joining the alliance rose even more dramatically, with more than three-quarters of Finns supporting membership, almost triple the level seen before the start of the war in Ukraine on February 24.

Finnish lawmakers kicked off a marathon debate on the issue on Monday with more than 150 of 200 lawmakers asking to speak, following a NATO membership proposal put forward by President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin on Sunday. .

“Our security environment has fundamentally changed,” Marin told parliament.

“The only country that threatens European security and is now openly waging a war of aggression is Russia,” she said.

– Memories of war –
Finland, which shares a 1,300 kilometer (800 mile) border with Russia, has a long shared history with Russia.

It spent over a century as part of the Russian Empire until its independence in 1917. It was then invaded by the Soviet Union in 1939.

The Finns fought hard during the bloody Winter War, but were eventually forced to cede much of their province of East Karelia in a peace treaty with Moscow.

An overwhelming majority of Finland’s 200 MPs – at least 85% – support the decision to join NATO.

During the debate in the Swedish parliament, Andersson acknowledged that Sweden’s decision to join NATO was closely linked to that of Finland.

As the only country in the Baltic Sea region outside NATO, Sweden would be “in a very vulnerable position”, she told parliament.

She also pointed to Sweden’s “extensive military cooperation” with Finland and said her country’s defense capability would decrease if Helsinki focused more on cooperation with NATO countries as a member of the NATO. alliance.

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