Nato expansion: Finland and Sweden set to announce plans to join bloc

Swedish Prime Minster Magdalena Andersson and Finnish leader Sanna Marin


Finland and Sweden are set to announce simultaneous bids to join Nato next month, local media has reported.

Finnish newspaper Iltalehti said the two countries’ leaders could meet in the week of 16 May to announce the bid.

Swedish outlet Aftonbladet added that the US and UK have agreed to provide security support during the application process, citing government officials.

Stockholm and Helsinki have long pursued policies of military neutrality to avoid conflict with regional powers.

But during a visit to Sweden earlier this month, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said “everything had changed” when Russia attacked Ukraine and told reporters that Helsinki must to be “prepared for all kinds of actions from Russia”.

Her comments coincided with the publication of a security report that warned Finland’s membership of Nato could result in “increased tensions on the border between Finland and Russia”.

The Swedish newspaper Expressen reported that the announcement of the simultaneous bid could come during a state visit by Finnish President Sauli Niinisto to Stockholm next month.

Finland shares a 1,340km (830 miles) border with Russia, and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has stressed that Moscow would have to “rebalance the situation” with its own measures if the Nato bid went ahead.

And there have been some reports that Russia had started to move military equipment towards the Russian-Finnish border, although US officials said they had seen nothing to confirm that.

US defence sources told Aftonbladet that Sweden and Finland would be treated as de-facto members of the security alliance for the duration of the application process.

The UK and US support would reportedly include an increased number of troops in the Nordic nations, further intelligence co-operation, assistance in combatting cyber threats and an increased presence of Nato warships in the Baltic sea.

A BBC graphic showing Nato expansion

Last week Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde said a wide-ranging security review being carried out by Stockholm will be completed by 13 May, rather than 31 May as initially planned.

She noted that with Finland’s analysis now complete “there is now a lot of pressure” to urgently publish the report, and her party, the Social Democrats, are expected to drop their traditional opposition to joining the bloc.

Russia sees Nato as a threat to its security, and before the war in Ukraine Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded that the bloc removed its forces from Eastern European member states.

However, Russia’s invasion has had the opposite effect, with Nato bolstering its forces in Eastern Europe and traditionally neutral countries now on the verge of joining the bloc.

Public sentiment in both Sweden and Finland towards Nato membership has changed dramatically since Russia launched its invasion over two months ago.

In Finland, opinion polls show that public support for joining bloc has climbed from 28% in February to 68% last month.

Meanwhile, 57% of Swedes now favour NATO membership, up from 51% in March.

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