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Sweden, Finland win US security aid pledge on road to NATO

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, left, and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin walk prior to a meeting on whether to seek NATO membership, in Stockholm, Sweden, on April 13, 2022. (Paul Wennerholm/TT News Agency/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Sweden and Finland are starting to win assurances of help if threatened by Russia in the interim period between an expected application to join defense alliance NATO and an eventual entry.

The two Nordic countries, which began to seriously consider joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have worried of an insecure “gray period” on the doorstep of the bloc, before full membership unlocks its collective security guarantees. Russia has repeatedly warned both with potential consequences.

The U.S. is “ready to provide various forms of security assurances” to both countries, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said on Wednesday after talks with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington, D.C., according to public broadcaster SVT. Finland is expected to apply for entry before May 17, while Sweden’s stance is less clear.

Also on Wednesday, U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told reporters in Finland that “it’s inconceivable that Britain would not come to the support of Finland or Sweden if it was ever attacked,” regardless of what stage of the NATO entry process they are at, according to multiple media.

“We expect three types of intimidation or action,” former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb said in an interview on Bloomberg TV on Thursday. “One is hybrid, one is cyber and then one is information. The information war is already going on.”

Stubb mentioned posters that have appeared in the past days in the Russian capital, including outside the Swedish embassy, claiming Astrid Lindgren, the author of Pippi Longstocking, or Ingvar Kamprad, the father of IKEA, supported Nazis.

The assurances from the U.S. are not the same as security guarantees, Linde said, but they would mean that “it would be clear to Russia that if they conduct any negative activities toward Sweden, which they have threatened, the U.S. would not let that pass unnoticed, without doing anything.”

The two Nordic neighbors have repeatedly been told by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg that they would be welcomed with “open arms” and a “quick process.”

“I’m also certain that we will be able to find arrangements for that interim period” between applications “and until the formal ratification is finalized in all 30 parliaments,” Stoltenberg said April 28. “I’m confident that there are ways to bridge that interim period in a way which is good enough and works for both Finland and Sweden.”

The “best security guarantee” would be to “keep the ratification process as short as possible,” Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin told reporters in Copenhagen on Wednesday. Other measures may include increased joint training exercises, which would put NATO troops on the ground in the two countries, and enhanced information sharing.

The Nordic nations are close partners to NATO, have highly compatible gear, and often train together with the alliance.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz this week sought to calm fears about the security risk on the path to membership, saying that as fellow Europeans, Sweden and Finland can “in any case always count on Germany’s support, independently of NATO membership and also during the period before it’s decided within NATO.”

Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store, whose country is already a member, has spoken of a need for NATO to send “a strong security signal” when it welcomes the two applicants.

There’s no immediate military threat, Marin has said. Finnish authorities have warned cyber attacks and airspace violations are likely to be among ways in which Russia will react.

The worries are not unfounded, Swedish Premier Magdalena Andersson signaled. “Russia has been clear, they will respond to an application. We are aware of that,” she said.

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