Ending its 200-year-long neutrality, and joining its Nordic neighbor Finland, Sweden has formally announced its bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Sweden had avoided military alliances since the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, including throughout the Cold War with the USSR, but has grown closer to NATO since the 1991 Soviet collapse.
Until recently both countries appeared firm in their neutrality. But Russia’s recent military aggression changed the mood dramatically.
As AP noted: “Public opinion in both Nordic countries was firmly against joining NATO before the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, but support for NATO membership surged quickly in both nations after that.”
After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the governments in Finland and Sweden responded by swiftly initiating discussions across political parties about NATO membership and reaching out to the U.S., Britain, Germany and other NATO countries for their support.
Finland shares an 810-mile (1,300-km) border with Russia and its tiny army fought the massive Russian Red Army to a standstill for three months during the so-called 1939-1940 ‘Winter War.’
In mid-April one of Putin’s closest allies warned NATO that if Sweden and Finland joined the American-led alliance, Russia would deploy nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles to its militarized European exclave of Kaliningrad.
Reuters reported that:
Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, said that should Sweden and Finland join NATO then Russia would have to strengthen its land, naval and air forces in the Baltic Sea.
Medvedev also explicitly raised the nuclear threat by saying that there could be no more talk of a “nuclear free” Baltic – where Russia has its Kaliningrad exclave sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania.
“There can be no more talk of any nuclear–free status for the Baltic – the balance must be restored,” said Medvedev, who was Russian president from 2008 to 2012.
Medvedev said he hoped Finland and Sweden would see sense. If not, he said, they would have to live with nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles close to home.
However, Russian leader Vladimir Putin seems to be softening the rhetoric, while still leaving open the possibility of bolstering his forces nearby.
On Monday, AP reported that Putin stated that Moscow “does not have a problem” with Sweden or Finland applying for NATO membership, but that “the expansion of military infrastructure onto this territory will of course give rise to our reaction in response.”
Trying to thread that strategic needle, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said Sweden would not have nuclear weapons or permanent NATO bases on its soil.
Still, Andersson warned that the country would be in a “vulnerable position” during its application period and urged Swedes to brace themselves for a Russian response.
Putin may also be relying on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s opposition to Swedish and Finnish NATO membership.
On Friday Erdogan said that Turkey, a NATO member, is “not favorable” toward Finland and Sweden joining NATO, hinting that Turkey could veto moves to admit the two countries.
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