STOCKHOLM (AP) – Sweden has decided to follow neighboring Finland in applying for NATO membership, ending more than 200 years of military non-alignment Russia’s invasion of Ukraineofficials said on Monday.
Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson called it “a historic shift in our country’s security policy” as she addressed lawmakers in the Swedish capital.
“Sweden needs formal security guarantees that come with NATO membership,” Andersson said, adding the country traded together with Finlandits government announced on Sunday it would try to join the alliance.
Andersson was due to officially announce the Swedish government’s decision later on Monday, along with opposition leader Ulf Kristersson.
The move was essentially a done deal after Andersson’s Social Democratic Party dropped its longstanding opposition to NATO membership on Sunday, giving the proponents a clear majority in parliament.
“The intention of the Swedish government is to apply for NATO membership. A historic day for Sweden,” Foreign Minister Ann Linde wrote on Twitter. “With broad support from political parties in Parliament, the conclusion is that Sweden will be stronger together with its allies in NATO.”
Once a regional military power, Sweden has avoided military alliances since the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Like Finland, it remained neutral during the Cold War but developed closer ties with NATO after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Public opinion in both countries was firmly opposed to NATO membership until Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, after which polls showed a dramatic shift in favor of membership.
The governments of Finland and Sweden responded by quickly launching bipartisan discussions on NATO membership, asking for the support of the US, Britain, Germany and other NATO countries.
In Helsinki on Monday, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said there was “very strong” support in Congress and that he expected ratification to be speedy. He said he hoped a vote could take place before the August break.
The Kremlin has repeatedly warned that the move would have destabilizing consequences for European security.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday Moscow has “no problem” with Sweden or Finland if they bid for NATO membership, but that “expanding military infrastructure to that area will of course provoke our reaction.”
In the Swedish parliament, only the small left and green parties opposed NATO membership.
Andersson said Sweden would reject nuclear weapons or permanent NATO bases on its soil – similar terms insisted on by neighboring Norway and Denmark when the alliance was formed after World War II.
Although NATO officials have expressed hopes for a speedy ratification process, all 30 current NATO members must agree to let Finland and Sweden the door. Turkey raised some objections last week, accusing the two countries of supporting Kurdish militants and others whom Turkey considers terrorists.
Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist told public broadcaster SVT that a Swedish delegation was being sent to Ankara to discuss the issue.
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