Sweden Ends Neutrality and Joins Finland in Quest for NATO Membership | National government and new policies

By KARL RITTER – Associated Press

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Sweden’s prime minister announced Monday that Sweden will join Finland in its bid to join NATO following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a historic shift that comes after more than 200 years of military non-alignment in the Nordic country.

The move, which risks upsetting the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin, came after neighboring Finland announced on Sunday that it too would seek to join the 30-nation military alliance.

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson called it a “historic change in our country’s security policy” when addressing lawmakers in the Swedish capital.

“We will inform NATO that we want to become a member of the alliance,” she said. “Sweden needs formal security guarantees that come with NATO membership.”

Andersson, adding that Sweden was acting in concert with Finland, whose government announced on Sunday it would seek to join the alliance.

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The announcement came after a debate in the Riksdagen, or parliament, earlier on Monday showed there is huge support for joining NATO. Of Sweden’s eight parties, only two small left-wing parties opposed it.

On Sunday, Sweden’s Social Democrats broke with the party’s longstanding position that Sweden must remain non-aligned, paving the way for a clear majority for NATO membership in parliament.

Public opinion in both Nordic countries was strongly opposed to NATO membership before the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, but support for NATO membership grew rapidly in both countries afterwards.

“The intention of the Swedish government is to apply for NATO membership. A historic day for Sweden,” Foreign Minister Ann Linde wrote on Twitter. “With broad support from political parties in parliament, the conclusion is that Sweden will be stronger together with its NATO allies.”

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 forged closer ties with NATO after the 1991 Soviet collapse.

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Finnish and Swedish governments reacted by quickly initiating discussions between political parties on NATO membership and seeking support from the United States, Great Britain, Germany and other NATO countries.

The Kremlin, however, has repeatedly warned that the move would have destabilizing consequences for security in Europe.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday that Moscow “has no problem” with Sweden or Finland in their application for NATO membership, but that “the expansion of military infrastructure in this territory will of course cause our reaction in response”.

In Helsinki, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said on Monday there was “very strong” support in Congress and that he expects quick ratification. He said he hoped a vote could take place before the August recess.

In the Swedish parliament, only the small left and green parties opposed joining NATO.

Andersson said Sweden would refuse nuclear weapons or permanent NATO bases on its soil – similar terms to those neighboring Norway and Denmark insisted on when the alliance was formed after World War II.

Although NATO officials have expressed hope for a quick ratification process, NATO’s current 30 members must agree to let Finland and Sweden in. Turkey voiced some objections last week, accusing the two countries of supporting Kurdish militants and others Turkey considers terrorists.

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

___ Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.

Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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