Finland and Sweden announced on Wednesday that they would submit their bids to join NATO together, despite threats to block the expansion of Turkey’s military alliance.
“I’m glad we took the same path and we can do it together,” Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Anderson told a joint news conference with Finnish President Sauli Ninistট on Tuesday.
Finland, which shares a 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) border with Russia, and Sweden have been rocked by Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Their appeal would end decades of military neutrality in joining the alliance as a defense against Russia’s dreadful aggression.
Russian President Vladimir Putin warned on Monday that NATO expansion could provoke a backlash from Moscow.
But the main obstacles to the membership of Finland and Sweden come from within the alliance, although NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has repeatedly insisted that the two countries be welcomed “with open arms”.
Turkey has accused Sweden and Finland of acting as hotbeds of terrorist groups, and its president has insisted that Ankara will not approve the expansion.
Any membership bid must be approved by the 30 members of NATO.
Ninistিস্ত said on Tuesday that he was “optimistic” that Finland and Sweden would be able to secure support from Turkey.
And in Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price similarly expressed confidence that Ankara would not block their accession to the alliance.
“We are confident that we will be able to maintain a consensus in the strong support alliance for the possible appeal of Finland and Sweden,” he said.
Anderson and Ninisto will meet with US President Joe Biden in Washington on Thursday to discuss their historic bid.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc had offered “full support” to the bids following a meeting of EU defense ministers in Brussels.
“It will increase the number of NATO member states. And it will strengthen and enhance cooperation and security in Europe,” he said, adding that it was “an important geopolitical change”.
– Growing public support –
After a day and a half of marathon controversy, 188 of the 200 Finnish lawmakers voted in favor of NATO membership, a dramatic change in Finland’s military non-alignment policy more than 75 years ago.
“Our security environment has changed fundamentally,” Finnish Prime Minister Sana Marin told parliament at the start of the debate.
“Russia is the only country that poses a threat to European security, and now Russia is openly waging a war of aggression,” he said.
Finland has been part of the Russian Empire for more than a century, until independence in 1917. Then in 1939 the Soviet Union invaded.
According to opinion polls, more than three-quarters of Finns want to join the coalition, almost three times as many as before the start of the war in Ukraine on February 24.
Swedish public support also increased dramatically, but remained at about 50 percent.
The petition was signed by Swedish Foreign Minister Anne Linde on Tuesday.
The change is also dramatic in Sweden, which remained neutral throughout World War II and has been outside the military alliance for more than 200 years.
– Turkey’s objection –
Ankara has thrown a spanner at work with its last-minute objections.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Helsinki and Stockholm of harboring Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants, who have been waging a decade-long uprising against the Turkish state.
Sweden suspended arms sales to Turkey in 2019 due to Ankara’s military operation in neighboring Syria.
“We will not say ‘yes’ to those who are subject to sanctions on Turkey for joining NATO,” Erdogan said on Monday. “No country has a clear position against terrorist organizations.”
Diplomatic sources told AFP that Turkey on Monday blocked a NATO declaration in favor of Sweden and Finland becoming members.
Sweden and Finland have sent delegations to Turkey to meet with Turkish officials.
“Sweden is pleased to be working with Turkey in NATO and this cooperation can be part of our bilateral relationship,” said Anderson of Sweden, adding that Stockholm is “committed to fighting all forms of terrorism”.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken will meet with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlt Cavusoglu in New York on Wednesday.
“Our assessment of feelings between our NATO allies and the NATO alliance has not changed,” said Price, a State Department spokesman.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)