Sweden, Finland seek NATO assurances as bid decisions loom – POLITICO

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STOCKHOLM – The NATO debate between Sweden and Finland went on tour this week, with officials performing a carefully choreographed diplomatic dance ahead of a possible joint bid to join the military alliance in the coming days.

On Tuesday, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and her Finnish counterpart Sanna Marin met German Prime Minister Olaf Scholz in Berlin, while Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde was on secondment to the United States and Canada.

At each meeting, the heads of state and government pledged their support for Finland and Sweden, as well as for the countries’ NATO candidatures. In Washington, Linde said she received even more reassurances after meeting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Yes, she said, the US would support a Swedish and Finnish NATO bid, and yes, she added, the US would provide the military support Sweden might need to repel Russian aggression during what could be a months-long bid process.

“I am very sure that we now have an American commitment,” said Linde told Reporter.

Such assurances, though vague, were repeated across the NATO alliance throughout the week. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg pledged The alliance could station more troops in and around Sweden if desired. And British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, on a visit to Finland, argued it is “inconceivable” that his country would not support Finland or Sweden “if they were ever attacked”.

All of this was a sign of how quickly Russia’s ruinous war in Ukraine is turning years of European military policy upside down. Many countries are increasing defense spending and strengthening existing alliances, while in Sweden and Finland – two of Europe’s decades-long NATO holdouts – sentiment has quickly shifted towards joining the military alliance.

Now the two countries’ NATO roadshow is returning home. Both Sweden and Finland are expected to announce their NATO membership decisions in about 10 days, and policy debates and statements on the matter are scheduled for almost every day next week.

Compressed timetable

The NATO debate will primarily dominate Swedish politics in the coming days as the ruling Social Democrats seek a consultation process with their local party groups.

Digital meetings with local members are scheduled for Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, while a number of senior party officials, including Foreign Minister Linde and her predecessor Margot Wallström, will deliver speeches.

A bipartisan defense policy report – including a discussion on NATO membership – is also expected on Friday, and a meeting of the Social Democrat party leadership is scheduled for May 15, where the party may make a final decision on NATO membership .

That meeting was previously scheduled for May 24 and the new date is seen as a way to bring Sweden’s schedule in line with that of Finland, where President Sauli Niinistö will announce his NATO view on Thursday. Marin’s ruling Social Democrats will announce their position on May 14.

Three days later, Niinistö will pay a state visit to Sweden.

The consensus among political observers is that the two are likely preparing to run for office together. This week’s shuttle diplomacy, which was also attended by Finland’s Marin meeting Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Finland’s Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto Holding conversations with his Turkish counterpart, was widely seen as part of those preparations.

The latest public opinion opinion poll in Sweden shows that 48 percent of Swedes support an application to join NATO, compared to 25 percent against. Around 60 percent of Finns want to join.

Careful change

In recent days, two high-profile Swedish Social Democrat ministers, Ardalan Shekarabi and Lena Hallengren called they “tend” to support a bid to join NATO. But her party colleagues are largely silent on this subject.

Experts say the silence is driven in part by a desire to limit Russia’s window to respond to a NATO bid. Moscow has previously said it would bring weapons – including nuclear weapons – closer to Finland and Sweden if they join NATO.

In their latest attempt to discredit Sweden, the Russian authorities this week set up Posters in Moscow calling numerous Swedish luminaries, including author Astrid Lindgren and IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, Nazis.

Following her meeting with Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly late Thursday, Sweden’s Linde said she expected Russia to “do everything” to stop Sweden and Finland from joining NATO, including potential cyber attacks and airspace violations.

She said “visible” support from NATO partners during an eventual application process is essential.

Joly, who said she also spoke to Finnish Foreign Minister Haavisto earlier this week, said the decision to join NATO should and will be up to the Finns and Sweden themselves. But if they decide to apply, she stressed, they would have Canada’s support.

“We believe that Sweden’s and Finland’s contribution to NATO would certainly be a plus,” Joly said. Sweden, Finland seek NATO assurances as bid decisions loom - POLITICO

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