Sweden likely to decide on NATO membership in mid-May: Foreign minister

NATO membership being debated in parliament by all political parties, with decision likely on May 13, says Foreign Minister Ann Linde.

Sweden likely to decide on NATO membership in mid-May: Foreign minister

Sweden’s parliament is likely to make a final decision on applying for NATO membership in mid-May, the country's foreign minister said on Friday, who also pledged a stronger security commitment to the military alliance of 30 countries if it becomes a member.

All political parties are now debating NATO membership in parliament, with a decision expected on May 13, said Ann Linde at a joint press conference with her Finnish counterpart Pekka Haavisto in Helsinki, Finland, where she was on an official visit.

“The overall impression is that if Sweden and Finland apply, it will be positively received by the NATO members, not the least because Sweden and Finland would then be a net contributor of security,” she said.

Noting that the Swedish-Finnish bilateral relationship is “uniquely broad,” and that their current close cooperation has never been seen before, she said whatever Finland decides about NATO membership would have a significant impact on Sweden on the same matter.

When asked what Russia's reaction would be if Sweden applied for NATO membership, Linde said there are two narratives – “one is, of course, warnings. There has been from the Foreign Affairs Ministry (of Russia) that there will be consequences if we are applying for membership,” she said. The other one is the “downplaying of the importance of NATO,” she added.

“We are monitoring these very closely and we are prepared to counter any possible Russian activities,” she said.

Finland’s membership

In response to a question about Finnish membership in the alliance, Haavisto stated that if Finland joins NATO, it will be a "net contributor of security."

“We have a conscription army and have a reserve of 280,000 soldiers to be used in a crisis situation,” he explained, adding that they also invest in new military equipment.

Touching on the ties with Sweden, Haavisto said Sweden is the “most important bilateral partner.”

“It will be very important that Finland and Sweden could make decisions in the same direction and in the same timeframe, while of course fully respecting the independence of our decision making,” he said.

When asked if Finland and Sweden would take joint measures to counter potential Russian influence, he responded: “Of course, if our security environments come more challenging, we can add that bilateral planning and it includes all sectors on military cooperation, the Finnish and Swedish military cooperation, and security cooperation is very deep and is ready to respond to many kinds of threats."

According to media reports, Finland and Sweden have agreed to submit their NATO membership applications jointly in mid-May.

The two countries maintained strict military neutrality during the Cold War and struck a partnership agreement with NATO in 1995.

After Russia launched a war against neighboring Ukraine, support for NATO membership surged significantly in both countries.

Russia has repeatedly stated that Finland and Sweden should not join NATO. Moscow justified its war on Ukraine by citing the possibility of the country joining NATO, despite the fact that the membership process has just recently begun.

Situation in Ukraine

Regarding Ukraine's current security situation, Haavisto stated that they "strongly condemned" Russia's war in Ukraine.

“Russia's invasion is also an attack against the entire European security order. That is a great breach of international law and a violation of the Charter of the United Nations. Russia must cease military actions immediately,” he added.

Noting that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had a meeting in Moscow and then he visited Kyiv on Thursday, he said: “We are very sad that in the middle of his (Guterres’) meeting also Kyiv was attacked by Russian missiles.”

At least 2,829 civilians have been killed and 3,182 others injured in Ukraine since the war started on Feb. 24, according to UN estimates. The true toll is feared to be much higher.

So far, 7.7 million people in Ukraine have been internally displaced, with more than 5.3 million fleeing to other countries, according to the UN refugee agency.

Hüseyin Demir