STOCKHOLM: Sweden on Monday officially announced it will apply for Nato membership as a deterrent against Russian aggression, entering a "new era" as it reverses two centuries of military non-alignment.
"The government has decided to inform Nato that Sweden wants to become a member of the alliance," Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson told reporters a day after neighbouring Finland made a similar announcement.
"We are leaving one era and beginning another," Andersson said of the dramatic turnaround of her country’s position less than three months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Sweden’s Nato ambassador would "shortly" inform Nato, she said.
Sweden and Finland have both expressed a desire to act in lockstep on Nato membership. They are expected to submit their applications jointly this week. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday warned that Nato’s expansion may trigger a response from Moscow.
The expansion poses "no direct threat for us... but the expansion of military infrastructure to these territories will certainly provoke our response," Putin said during a televised summit meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, a Moscow-led military alliance.
Andersson acknowledged Sweden would be "vulnerable" in the interim period before its application is ratified. "We can’t exclude that Sweden will be subjected for example to disinformation and attempts to scare and divide us", she said.
However, Stockholm has received security assurances from several key partners, including the United States, Britain, Germany, France and the Nordic countries, she added. She expected "it shouldn’t take more than a year" for the alliance’s 30 members to unanimously ratify Sweden’s membership application.
Sweden’s announcement was expected after Andersson’s Social Democratic party on Sunday backed membership, in a dramatic U-turn after having opposed the idea since the birth of the Western military alliance.
The premier had earlier in the day consulted parliament on the issue by convening a debate, though lawmakers did not vote on the issue. Six of eight parties in parliament, constituting a very broad majority, are in favour of membership. Swedish public support has also risen dramatically to around 50 percent -- with about 20 percent against.
In Helsinki, support for joining the alliance has surged even more dramatically, with more than three-quarters of Finns in favour of joining, almost triple the level seen before the war in Ukraine began on February 24.
Finnish lawmakers on Monday launched a marathon debate on the issue with over 150 of 200 MPs asking to speak, following a Nato membership proposal presented on Sunday by President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin.
"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.
Meanwhile, president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday confirmed Turkey’s opposition to Nato membership for Finland and Sweden, again accusing them of failing to take a clear stance against terrorism.
"We will not say ‘yes’ to those (countries) who apply sanctions to Turkey to join security organisation Nato," Erdogan said. Sweden has suspended any arms sales to Turkey since 2019 over Ankara’s military operation in neighbouring Syria.
Referring to the Swedish and Finnish delegations’ intentions to meet with Turkish officials, Erdogan said: "They say they will come to Turkey on Monday. Will they come to persuade us? Excuse us, but they shouldn’t bother."
The two Nordic countries have officially announced their intention to apply for Nato membership after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But Turkey has threatened to block the alliance’s expansion, accusing them of harbouring terror groups including outlawed Kurdish militants, blacklisted by Ankara, the EU and the United States. Any membership bid must be unanimously approved by Nato’s 30 members.
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