Sweden and Finland 'agree to both apply for NATO membership in May'

Sweden and Finland ‘agree to both apply for NATO membership in May’ in defiance of Russian threats

  • Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sparked desire to join NATO in the Nordic territories
  • The two countries have remained neutral for decades, but co-operate with NATO
  • Sweden’s application was previously expected to be submitted in late June 
  • Finland’s PM said earlier this month an application ‘would happen in weeks’
  • But Swedish and Finnish newspapers today reported their respective governments have agreed to apply for NATO membership next month 
  • BREAKING: More to follow 

Two newspapers – one Swedish, the other Finnish – have reported the governments of Sweden and Finland have agreed to submit NATO applications at the same time and that it will happen in the middle of next month. 

Finnish newspaper Iltalehti said that the Swedish government has expressed a wish to Finland that they apply together in the week starting May 22 and Swedish government sources confirmed the information to Sweden’s Expressen tabloid.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to growing support in Sweden and Finland, a Russian neighbour, for joining NATO.

Though not members, both Nordic countries closely co-operate with NATO, allowing, among other things, the alliance’s troops to carry out exercises on their soil.

Helsinki and Stockholm have also substantially intensified their bilateral defence co-operation in the past years, and there was talk earlier this month that the Nordic territories could both seek to join NATO in the coming months amid Russian aggression.

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson (L) welcomes Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin (R) prior to a meeting on whether to seek NATO membership in Stockholm, Sweden, on April 13, 2022 

Sweden signalled its intention to apply for NATO membership on April 13, in a move which infuriated Moscow lawmakers.

Sources told Sweden’s SVD newspaper about the move on the same day that fellow neutral neighbour Finland started its debate on joining NATO after days of speculation it would do so. 

Sweden’s prime minister Magdalena Andersson is understood to be eager for the country to join the trans-Atlantic alliance by June, to the fury of Vladimir Putin who invaded Ukraine in part for its desire to join to the pact.

Finland, along with neighbouring Sweden, has historically avoided NATO membership, despite close alignment with the West, in an effort not to provoke Russia. 

But Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has decisively changed public opinion in the Scandinavian countries after Russia began the war with a barrage of rhetoric about stopping NATO expansion.  

The Swedish application was previously expected to be submitted by the NATO meeting in Madrid on June 29-20, according to Swedish reports earlier this month, but the latest information reported in the Swedish and Finnish press suggests this date may be brought forward.

Similarly, Finland is hoping to start its application process ‘within weeks, not within months’, its prime minister Sanna Marin said April 13. 

This comes despite Moscow lawmaker Vladimir Dzhabarov warning it would mean ‘the destruction of the country’.

Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson (pictured with European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on April 7) is understood to be eager for the country to join the trans-Atlantic alliance by June this year

A Finnish government report released earlier this month examined the ‘fundamentally changed’ security environment as regards Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and is formed the basis of parliamentary discussions on a possible application for NATO membership. 

Swedish PM Andersson hosted Finnish PM Marin in Stockholm for a meeting on their prospective memberships of the alliance less than two weeks ago.

Marin said at the time: ‘There are different perspectives to apply (for) NATO membership or not to apply and we have to analyse these very carefully. But I think our process will be quite fast, it will happen in weeks.’

The assault on Ukraine sparked a dramatic U-turn in public and political opinion in Finland and neighbouring Sweden regarding their long-held policies of military non-alignment. 

Why are Sweden and Finland not already in NATO? 

Both Finland and Sweden have been militarily non-aligned since WWII.

Sweden maintained its policy of neutrality – which had begun in the early 19th century – throughout the war wanting to avoid being drawn into a conflict that was engulfing the nearby powers of Germany and the Soviet Union.

Instead, Sweden profited from its neutrality by exporting iron ore to the Nazis and sharing military intelligence with the Allies and training their refugee soldiers. 

Meanwhile Finland changed sides in the conflict, first being invaded by Joseph Stalin and assisting the Nazis, before fighting against Hitler’s troops.

When NATO was formed in 1949 for a Western military alliance, Sweden decided not to join and continue its neutrality, introducing a security policy that secured its non-alignment in peace and neutrality in war. 

In 1994, Stockholm decided to join the NATO programme Partnership for Peace (PfP), aimed to build trust between member states and other European countries, but until now it has not signalled a desire to fully join the alliance.

Finland is also a PfP member but has similarly stated its desire to remain neutral since the war.

The EU member state was part of the Russian Empire and won independence during the 1917 Russian revolution but it nearly lost it fighting the Soviet Union in World War Two. 

Having been invaded by Russia in 1939 and sharing a long border with the superpower, Finland wanted to stay out of future conflicts, giving it the freedom to maintain a strong relationship with Moscow and the West while enjoying a free market economy. 

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