Finland and Sweden expand on NATO plans
Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin and her Swedish counterpart Magdalena Andersson have expanded on their countries' possible NATO bids following bilateral talks on security in Stockholm on Wednesday.
Helsinki’s decision on whether to apply for the US-led military bloc or not “will happen quite fast,” Marin said during a joint press conference. ”It will happen in weeks, not months.”
Finland, just like Sweden, had been pursuing a policy of not joining any military alliances, but “everything has changed” after the launch of the Russian military offensive in Ukraine, she pointed out.
Marin said she wanted a consensus to be reached on NATO membership in Finnish political circles. “All the parliamentary groups and also the president will have the opportunity to make the decision in the upcoming weeks,” she explained, adding that the MPs will hear from a range of security experts on the issue.
Andersson said that Sweden wouldn’t rush the decision to join NATO, but promised a thorough, yet expedited assessment of the security situation.
“This is an important time in history,” she said, referring to the events in Ukraine. “The security landscape has completely changed.”
“We have to think about what is best for Sweden, for our security and peace,” the PM added.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper claimed that Andersson’s goal was to submit the Swedish application to join NATO this June. However, the PM refused to confirm the report when asked about it by journalists.
On Monday, Britain’s Times newspaper reported, citing US officials, that the Finnish application for the bloc is expected in June, with Sweden following suit shortly after that.
Russia, Finland and Sweden all have access to the Baltic Sea, with a shared Russian-Finnish land border spanning some 1,340km.
Also on Wednesday, Moscow has denied claims of Russian threat, which are used by Helsinki and Stockholm to justify their push to become NATO members.
"They are in the realm of propaganda and provocations. They go against the national interests of those countries," Russian Foreign Ministry's spokeswoman Maria Zakharova insisted.
Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov told Sky News last week that - despite opposing any NATO expansion - Moscow didn't see the possible membership of Finland and Sweden in the block as an existential threat. Such a turn of events would only require Russia to make its "Western flank more sophisticated in terms of ensuring our security," he pointed out.
Russia launched a large-scale offensive against Ukraine in late February, following Ukraine's failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements signed in 2014, and Russia's eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German and French brokered Minsk Protocol was designed to give the breakaway regions special status within the Ukrainian state.
Moscow has since demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two rebel regions by force.