Sweden on Tuesday signed a formal request to join NATO, a day after the country announced it would seek membership in the 30-member military alliance. Finland’s Parliament has overwhelmingly endorsed a bid from the Nordic country’s government to join NATO.
The moves by the two Nordic countries, ending Sweden’s more than 200 years of military nonalignment and Finland’s nonalignment after World War II, have provoked the ire of the Kremlin.
While most NATO members are keen to welcome the two countries as quickly as possible, Turkey has potentially complicated their accession by saying it cannot allow them to become members because of their perceived inaction against exiled Kurdish militants.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday doubled down on comments last week indicating that the two Nordic countries´ path to NATO would be anything but smooth. All 30 current NATO countries must agree to open the door to new members. He accused the two Nordic countries of refusing to extradite “terrorists” wanted by his country.
In Stockholm, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde signed the formal request to join the Alliance, which she said would be sent to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg
“It feels like we have taken a decision that is the best for Sweden,” she said while signing the document.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto arrived in Sweden for an official two-day visit and was welcomed by Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia, who had invited him. Niinisto addressed Sweden's Parliament and said, “we took peace for granted; on Feb. 24 the peace was broken,” in a reference to the date that Ukraine was invaded by Russia.
“Our old ways of handling things no longer correspond to the new situation," Niinisto told Swedish lawmakers.“ Our relations with Russia have changed."
He also spoke about Erdogan's comments, saying they were “surprising and interesting.”
“Turkey’s statements have changed and toughened very quickly in recent days, but I am sure that we will resolve the situation with the help of constructive talks,” Niinisto said.
He is later to meet Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.
On Twitter, Niinisto said that “the timing is excellent, a strong and stable Nordic region is our common cause.”
During a brief press conference, Carl XVI Gustaf said "the visit is characterized by the serious situation in our vicinity.” Niinisto added that “our security policy line has long been similar and even now, when the situation demands it, we take our steps together.”
In the neighbouring Finland, lawmakers at the 200-seat Eduskunta legislature voted 188-8 Tuesday to approve Finland seeking membership in the 30-member Western military alliance.
The vote was seen a formality as Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced the intention on Sunday, and lawmakers’ approval wasn’t necessarily required. However, both Niniisto and Marin stressed that it was important for the Parliament to weigh in on the NATO bid, described by the Finnish head of state as “historic.”
Finland is now expected to sign a formal application and file it to NATO headquarters in the coming days together with Nordic neighbor Sweden where the government announced a similar NATO bid on Monday.
If Finland joins NATO it will be the biggest defense and security policy shift in the history of the nation of 5.5 million since World War II, after which the country adopted a policy of military nonalignment and neutrality. Finland, which shares a long border with Russia, fought two wars against Moscow during World War II and lost about 10% of its territory.