President Joe Biden on Thursday enthusiastically welcomed bids from Sweden and Finland to join the NATO security alliance – a move that would bring two of Europe’s most modern armies to Russia’s northwestern border.
Speaking from the Rose Garden, along with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finland’s President Souli Niinisto, Biden said he would send his membership applications to the US Congress, where he expected swift approval.
“Sweden and Finland have strong democratic institutions, strong military and strong and transparent economies. And a strong moral sense of what is right. They meet every NATO requirement, and then some,” Biden said.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg made the announcement about Sweden and Finland at the coalition headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday. The 29 other NATO members would have to agree unanimously for the two countries to accept – a process that normally takes up to a year but is expected to expedite the matter.
Finland and Sweden’s applications mark a significant departure from the decades-long neutrality, dating from the Cold War. Moscow’s decision to invade neighboring Ukraine on February 24 sparked fear in both countries, particularly in Finland, which shares a border of more than 1,300 km with Russia.
At Wednesday’s meeting at the Pentagon, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told his Swedish counterpart Peter Hultqvist, “We look forward to your contribution to the NATO alliance.”
“This is a time when the democracies of Europe and North America must stand together against Russia’s naked aggression,” Hultquist said.
Only NATO ally Turkey has objected to the Baltic neighbors joining the coalition, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accusing them of harboring “terrorists” and imposing sanctions on Turkey.
“We asked to extradite 30 terrorists, but [Sweden] They said they would not,” he said this week. “You will not hand us over to terrorists, but you will ask us to allow us to join NATO. NATO is a security unit. It is a security agency. That’s why we say ‘yes’ to denying security to this security organization.” can say.”
Ankara says Sweden and Finland have given asylum to people it says are linked to groups it considers terrorists, such as Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants and followers of US-based Fethullah Gulen. , whom Ankara has accused of orchestrating the 2016 coup attempt.
Erdogan also said Turkey would oppose NATO’s bid to impose sanctions on Ankara. Sweden and Finland banned arms exports to Turkey following an incursion into Syria against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units—the PKK’s Syrian ally—in 2019.
On Thursday in Washington, Finnish President Souli Niinisto said that his government has discussed with Turkey and assured them that they will be a good ally of NATO.
“As NATO allies, we will be committed to Turkey’s security, just as Turkey will be committed to our security,” he said. “We take terrorism seriously. We condemn terrorism in all its forms and we are actively engaged in combating it. We are open to discussing all concerns regarding our membership of Turkey in an open and constructive manner.” For.”
But analysts say the move could further inflame Russia.
“I am concerned that NATO’s expansion to connect Finland and Sweden is provocative,” Melanie Sisson, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, told VOA via Zoom. “And I worry that, while anyone has any idea about the value of having them in the Coalition, I’m not sure it’s wise to work on that issue right now and that really, I think, reflects a lack of strategic patience.” So I worry about that dynamic potentially a different response from Russia than what we would see otherwise.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has called NATO’s eastward expansion a threat to Russia, and cited Ukraine’s desire to join the coalition as a reason for his decision to invade in February.
This week Putin said, “The expansion of NATO is a problem that is completely artificial, because it is done in the interests of the foreign policy of the United States.” “NATO in general has become an instrument of a country’s foreign policy.”
Later on Thursday, Biden left for his first presidential visit to Asia, where he would visit US allies South Korea and Japan and attend a summit of Quad leaders. Those meetings are also likely to lead to lengthy discussions on the situation in Ukraine.
VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this report. Some information is from Reuters.