On Thursday, President Joe Biden enthusiastically welcomed Sweden’s and Finland’s applications to join NATO’s security alliance – a move that would bring two of Europe’s most modern military rights to Russia’s northwestern border.
Speaking from Rose Garden, flanked by Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, Biden said he would send their membership applications to the US Congress, where he hopes for a speedy approval.
“Sweden and Finland have strong democratic institutions, strong military and strong and transparent economies,” said Biden. “And a strong moral sense of what’s right. They meet all of NATO’s requirements, and a little more.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg made the announcement on Sweden and Finland on Wednesday at the Alliance’s headquarters in Brussels. The other 29 NATO members must agree by consensus to allow the two nations – a process that normally takes up to a year but is expected to go faster in this case.
The applications of Finland and Sweden mark a significant departure from their decades-long neutrality, dating back to the Cold War. Moscow’s decision to invade neighboring Ukraine on February 24 raised concerns in both countries, especially in Finland, which shares a border with Russia of more than 1,300 kilometers.
At a Wednesday meeting of the Pentagon, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told his Swedish counterpart, Peter Hultqvist, “We look forward to your contributions to the NATO alliance.”
“This is a time when democracies in Europe and North America must stand together against Russia’s naked aggression,” Hultqvist said.
Only NATO ally Turkey has expressed reservations about the Baltic neighbors joining the alliance, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accusing them of giving “terrorists” refuge and imposing sanctions on Turkey.
“We asked for 30 terrorists to be extradited, however [Sweden] said they would not do that, “he said this week.” You will not hand over terrorists to us, but you will ask us to allow you to join NATO. NATO is a security unit. It’s a security agency. Therefore, we can not say “yes” to depriving this security organization of security.
Ankara says Sweden and Finland have hosted people they say are linked to groups they believe are terrorists, namely militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and supporters of US-based Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating a 2016 coup attempt. .
Erdogan has also said that Turkey would oppose NATO’s orders from those imposing sanctions on Ankara. Sweden and Finland had banned arms exports to Turkey following Syria’s invasion of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units-PKK’s Syrian affiliate in 2019.
On Thursday in Washington, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said that his government had held talks with Turkey and assured them that they would be good NATO allies.
“As NATO allies, we will be committed to Turkey’s security, just as Turkey will commit itself to our security,” he said. “We take terrorism seriously. We condemn terrorism in all its forms and we are actively involved in combating it. We are open to discussing any concerns Turkey may have about our membership in an open and constructive manner.
But analysts say the move could further provoke Russia.
“I am concerned that the expansion of NATO to add Finland and Sweden is provocative,” Melanie Sisson, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, told VOA via Zoom. “And I’m worried that, no matter what the value of having them in the alliance, I’m not sure it’s wise to work on that issue right now and, in fact, I think, there’s a certain shortcoming. “Strategic patience. So I’m worried about that. Dynamics that could potentially cause a different reaction from Russia than we would otherwise see.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has described NATO’s expansion to the east as a threat to Russia, citing Ukraine’s desire to join the alliance as a reason for its decision to invade in February.
“The expansion of NATO – this is a problem that is created entirely by artificial means, because it is done in the interests of US foreign policy,” Putin said this week. “In general, NATO has become a foreign policy instrument for a country.”
Later on Thursday, Biden traveled for his first presidential trip to Asia, where he will visit US allies South Korea and Japan and attend a summit with Quad leaders. These meetings are also likely to include lengthy discussions on the situation in Ukraine.
VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this report. Some information comes from Reuters.