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Finland and Sweden ‘closer than ever’ to joining Nato

Russian demands that the US ban Sweden and Finland from joining Nato have backfired with both countries pledging to build closer links with the military alliance.

A belligerent Kremlin threatening a possible invasion of Ukraine has given fresh impetus to the push to join Nato in the two countries, which are militarily unaligned and tried to avoid taking sides in the Cold War.

Vladimir Putin’s aggressive rhetoric in recent weeks has caused shifts in long standing party policies and convinced some former opponents of Nato membership to change their minds.

One Finnish MP told the Telegraph that the country was now “closer than it has ever been” to applying for Nato membership.

Washington has told Sweden and Finland it backs their right to choose their alliances ahead of crunch talks between US and Russian officials in Geneva on Monday.

On Friday night Tony Blinken, the US secretary of state, rejected Russian demands that Nato not admit new members. 

He said: “Nato never promised not to admit new members. It could not and would not.”

Mr Blinken accused Russia of “gaslighting” the world by claiming provocations by Ukraine, and said next week’s talks would focus on Moscow’s “aggression”.

Nato will refuse Mr Putin’s demand that the alliance limit its expansion in Europe at the Nato-Russia Summit in Brussels on Wednesday. It will stress that the military alliance’s treaty has an “open-door” policy to promote stability and peace in Europe.

A Finnish armored terrain vehicle, Patria, is seen during a co-operation between Finnish and Swedish troops - ANDERS WIKLUND/AFP
A Finnish armored terrain vehicle, Patria, is seen during a co-operation between Finnish and Swedish troops – ANDERS WIKLUND/AFP

Magdalena Andersson, Sweden’s prime minister, said she had discussed “deepening the partnership between Sweden and Nato” in talks with Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

“In Sweden, it is we ourselves who get to decide on our foreign and security policy and who we choose to cooperate with,” she said, in an unusually strong statement for the leader of a party which has long opposed membership.

Finland’s president, Sauli Niinistö, and Sanna Marin, the prime minister, both said that Helsinki reserved the right to choose whether or not to join Nato in the future.

“Freedom of choice also includes the possibility of military alignment and of applying for Nato membership,” Mr Niinistö said.

Nato insiders believe any membership process would be relatively quick one because the countries already comply with the many of the standards expected by the 30-nation bloc.

A poll last year found that 46 percent of Swedish citizens now support joining the alliance, up from just 17 percent in 2012.

The populist Sweden Democrats switched their policy towards Nato in December. The parliament then voted through a statement in favour of a “Nato option”, which, if enacted by the government, would set the ground for Sweden, like Finland, to be able to join the alliance rapidly if threatened.

The centre-Right Moderate party opposition this Friday accused the centre-Left government of “passivity” in the face of the Russian threat.

It called for the Nato option to be triggered and “like Finland, open up for a serious discussion on a future Nato membership”.

Finnish military unit practice tactical treatment of combat injuries during a co-operation between Finnish and Swedish troops - ANDERS WIKLUND/AFP
Finnish military unit practice tactical treatment of combat injuries during a co-operation between Finnish and Swedish troops – ANDERS WIKLUND/AFP

Ms Valtonen said there were emerging signs of cross-party support for the move among the younger generation of politicians.

At the end of December, Atte Harjanne, the parliamentary head of the Green Party, called on it to reverse its long held stance against Nato membership and actively campaign for Finland to join the alliance.

A poll last month found that only 24 per cent of Finnish citizens were positive towards joining, an increase of 2 per cent from last year, with 51 per cent against membership.

But experts believe the country’s consensus-driven culture means that this could change rapidly if the country’s president or prime minister began to campaign for membership.

Matti Pesu, a senior research fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, told the Telegraph that Russia’s demand, included in a so-called ‘draft treaty’ published on December 17, was influential.

“The option to join NATO has been instrumentalised as a soft deterrent,” he said. “Russia’s demands, basically, would shut this NATO option, and the fear that the door is closing has sparked a rather vivid national debate.”

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