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Sweden approves historic NATO membership application

Sweden approves historic NATO membership application
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson announced her government has decided to apply for a NATO membership Monday in Stockholm. Photo by Henrik Montgomery/EPA-EFE

May 16 (UPI) -- Sweden's government has made a historic decision to apply for membership in the NATO western military alliance, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson announced Monday.

"We will inform NATO that we want to become a member of the alliance," Andersson, leader of Sweden's Social Democrats, said at a press conference in Stockholm while flanked by Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson.

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The decision followed a debate in Sweden's legislature, the Riksdag, in which lawmakers expressed "broad majority" support for the NATO application after decades of official military neutrality.

"It is the government's assessment that a Swedish NATO membership is the best way to protect Sweden's security in light of the fundamentally changed security policy situation after Russia's invasion of Ukraine," the prime minister added.

RELATED Finland announces nation will apply to join NATO; Sweden backs membership

The application is to be submitted by the Swedish NATO ambassador. Although the precise timing of move remained unclear, Andersson said her government wants to submit it in tandem with neighboring Finland, which similarly decided on Sunday to seek NATO membership.

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With Finland now opting to apply, "Sweden alone would remain outside NATO in a very vulnerable position," Andersson said. "The best thing for Sweden's security and the security of the Swedish people is that we join NATO and that we do it together with Finland."

"This is a historic decision," added Kristersson. "It is not about party politics -- it's taking joint responsibility for the country's security policy interest."

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Andersson has acknowledged risks associated with the NATO move, including the possibility of Russian cyberattacks in retaliation.

"There could be the possibility of cyberattacks, hybrid attacks and other measures, but it's all up to them," she told reporters on Sunday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, had a muted official reaction to the moves by Finland and Sweden in contrast to earlier, more threatening comments from Russian officials over the applications.

RELATED Russia threatens retaliation against Finland for desire to join NATO

The Kremlin "has no problems" with Finland and Sweden, he said Monday during a meeting of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization of Eurasian countries, adding.

"I would like to inform you ... there are no problems with these states, and therefore, in this sense, expansion at the expense of these countries does not pose a direct threat to Russia," Putin said.

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But he also warned that "the expansion of military infrastructure into this territory will certainly provoke our response."

The bids by Finland and Sweden to join the western military alliance must be approved unanimously by all members including Turkey, but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday reiterated his opposition to the move.

Just hours after Sweden's announcement, Erdogan told reporters in Ankara he will not allow it to proceed due to what he called the Nordic countries' insufficient policies against terrorism.

"Neither of the countries has a clear stance against terror organizations," he said, calling Sweden a "hatchery" for such groups and suggesting its representatives "not bother" coming to Turkey to discuss their NATO bid.

Erdogan has previously criticized the alleged ties between the Nordic countries and Kurdish organizations, but Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas said the differences can be overcome.

"The objections Turkey voiced have nothing to do with the membership of these countries, they have to do with Turkey's wishes it would like to resolve with these countries on a bilateral basis," he told The Baltic Times. "Until the formal admission of Sweden and Finland, I think these things can certainly be discussed and negotiated."

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NATO foreign ministers met in Berlin on Sunday to discuss Finland and Sweden's applications in the wake of Russia's assault on Ukraine.

"Their membership in NATO would increase our shared security, demonstrate that NATO's door is open and that aggression does not pay," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, reiterating that "all sovereign nations have the right to choose their own path."

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