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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said Berlin would back Finland and Sweden joining NATO if they apply. Neutral during the Cold War, the two countries are mulling membership in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Tuesday that Germany would support Finland and Sweden if they decided to join NATO.
"If these two countries decide they should join the NATO alliance then they can count on our support," Scholz said in a statement after hosting the Swedish and Finnish leaders at a two-day Cabinet retreat near Berlin.
Scholz said no one could assume that Russia would not attack other countries.
The two-day meeting at Meseberg Palace was to discuss the course to take in the face of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, among other issues.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and her Finnish counterpart, Sanna Marin, attended the first session of the meeting on Tuesday morning as guests.
The two leaders both said Russia's attack had forced their countries to rethink the question of NATO membership.
"Russia's attack on Ukraine has changed our security environment completely'' and there was "no going back," Marin said.
"We have to decide on whether to apply for NATO membership or continue on our current path,'' she added. "That is the discussion we are having now in our national parliament."
Andersson said Sweden's parliament was conducting a security review that will be presented on May 13.
"The analysis includes future international defense partnerships for Sweden, including a discussion on NATO, and all options are on the table,'' she said.
"While our respective security arrangements are of course decided nationally, we coordinate very closely with Finland,'' Andersson added.
Speaking at the start of the meeting, Chancellor Scholz called the two countries "close partners and important members of the European Union."
He said the meeting would discuss Germany's future economic course amid a myriad of challenges, including that of the Russian invasion and climate change, in consultation with scientists and economists.
Owing to their proximity to Russia, Sweden and Finland both feel directly threatened by Moscow's attack on Ukraine, fearing the Kremlin's territorial ambitions could extend throughout the Baltic region. Finland in particular shares a 1,300-kilometer (810-mile) border with the Russian Federation and fought the Soviet Union during World War II, losing territory after the conflict.
Their geographical location makes the two EU countries major stakeholders in the conflict in Ukraine.
The fear of Russian aggression has led to a surge in support in both countries for membership of NATO, of which other Nordic countries — Norway, Denmark and Iceland — are already members. Germany is also a NATO member.
The Finnish newspaper Iltalehti reported on Sunday that Helsinki would decide to apply for NATO membership on May 12. It cited Finnish government sources as the basis for its report.
If Finland does apply to join, Sweden is likely to make the same move to avoid being the only Nordic outsider. Surveys have shown that a majority of Swedes are now in favor of joining the alliance, in a surge of support provoked by the Russian attack on Ukraine.
The government has said the meeting will also discuss "the German economic model with a view to the challenges of the global economy."
The Cabinet has invited top economic experts to attend the meeting.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has created a number of challenges for the German economy, notably regarding imports of cheap Russian fuel that have long driven economic growth.
Germany has come under pressure from Ukraine and its allies to embargo Russian energy sources. In a major turnaround, Berlin has now said it is prepared to back a likely EU embargo or partial embargo on Russian oil shipments.
At the end of the meeting on Wednesday, Scholz, Habeck and Finance Minister Christian Lindner are to hold a press conference.
tj/msh (dpa, AFP)