US President Joe Biden on Thursday enthusiastically welcomed bids from Sweden and Finland to join the NATO security alliance – moves that would expand the bloc to include two of Europe’s most modern armies and the would place along the northwest border of Russia.
Speaking from the Rose Garden while flanked by Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden and President Sauli Niinistö of Finland, Biden said he would send their membership applications to the US Congress, where he hopes for quick approval. .
“Sweden and Finland have strong democratic institutions, strong armies, and strong, transparent economies,” Biden said. “And a strong moral sense of what is right. They meet all NATO requirements, and then some.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg made the announcement regarding Sweden and Finland on Wednesday at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels. The other 29 NATO members will have to agree by consensus to admit the two nations, a process that normally takes up to a year but should be quicker in this case.
Finland’s and Sweden’s demands mark a significant break from their decades-old Cold War-era neutrality. Moscow’s decision to invade neighboring Ukraine on February 24 has sparked fears in both countries, especially in Finland, which shares a border with Russia of more than 1,300 kilometers.
Kurt Volker, the former US ambassador to NATO, told VOA that the security alliance could soon see even more offers to join.
“If Finland and Sweden, which are democracies, members of the EU, powerful armies – if they don’t think it’s safe to be outside of NATO, then clearly the countries that have been left out so far, the ‘grey zone countries’, if you will – Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, some of the Balkans – they also cannot consider themselves safe without the NATO,” he told VOA. “So that’s going to increase that demand.”
In a meeting Wednesday at 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 unite against Russia’s overt 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 refuge to ‘terrorists’ and imposing restrictions. sanctions on Turkey.
“We have requested the extradition of 30 terrorists, but [Sweden] said they wouldn’t,” he said this week. “You will not deliver terrorists to us, but you will ask us to allow you to join NATO. NATO is a security entity. It’s a security agency. Therefore, we cannot say ‘yes’ to depriving this security organization of security.”
Ankara says Sweden and Finland have harbored people it believes are linked to groups it considers terrorists, namely Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) activists and supporters of Fethullah Gulen, based in the United States, whom Turkey accuses of orchestrating a coup attempt in 2016.
Erdogan also said Turkey would oppose NATO offers from those who imposed sanctions on Ankara. Sweden and Finland had banned arms exports to Turkey after its incursion into Syria against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units – the Syrian affiliate of the PKK – in 2019.
In Washington on Thursday, Finland’s Niinisto said his government had held talks with Turkey and assured them they would be good NATO allies.
“As NATO allies, we are committed to Turkey’s security, just as Turkey is committed to our security,” he said. “We take terrorism seriously. We condemn terrorism in all its forms and are actively committed to combating it. We are open to discussing any concerns Turkey may have regarding our membership in an open and constructive manner. “
But analysts say the move could further provoke Russia.
“I’m afraid the NATO expansion to add Finland and Sweden is provocative,” Brookings Institution fellow Melanie Sisson told VOA via Zoom. “And I’m afraid that whatever everyone’s opinion is on the value of having them in the alliance, I’m not sure that working on this issue at the moment is wise and in fact, I think, shows a certain lack of strategic patience. So I fear that this dynamic is potentially causing a different reaction from Russia than we would otherwise see.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has described NATO’s eastward expansion as a threat to Russia and cited Ukraine’s desire to join the alliance as the reason for his decision to invade in February.
“NATO expansion – this is a problem that is created completely artificially, because it is done in the interests of US foreign policy,” Putin said this week. “In general, NATO has become an instrument of foreign policy of one country. .”
Later Thursday, Biden left for his first presidential trip to Asia, where he will visit U.S. allies in South Korea and Japan and attend a summit of Quad leaders. These meetings should also include lengthy discussions on the situation in Ukraine.
Carla Babb, VOA correspondent at the Pentagon, and Milena Durdic contributed to this report. Some information comes from Reuters.