Sweden's government on Monday announced that it would formally apply for NATO membership. The EU member, which remained neutral throughout the Cold War, has rapidly reappraised its position in light of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
"The government has decided to inform NATO that Sweden wants to become a member of the alliance. Sweden's NATO ambassador will shortly inform NATO," said Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.
The landmark decision comes after Sweden's ruling Social Democrats broke a 73-year policy of "non-alignment" and said on Sunday that they would back NATO membership.
"We are leaving one era and beginning another," Andersson said Monday following a parliamentary debate that showed large support for joining the alliance.
Out of Sweden's eight parties, only two smaller left-leaning parties opposed the move.
NATO hopes for quick application process
Andersson said she expects it "shouldn't take more than a year" for the alliance's 30 members to ratify Sweden's membership application.
Turkey has expressed reservations about Sweden and Finland joining the alliance, citing what it calls "terrorism" concerns in the Nordic countries, a reference to the states often granting asylum to Kurds from Turkey in the past. Sweden said Monday it would send diplomats to Ankara for talks.
NATO Deputy Secretary-General Mircea Geoana told DW on Sunday that the alliance would do its best to make sure that Finland and Sweden will have an expedited application process.
"They would add value to their security, to our security, and in general to the trans-Atlantic community," he said.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin on Sunday also announced a NATO membership proposal, which is expected to enjoy wide political support and be approved following a marathon parliamentary session.
"Our security environment has fundamentally changed," Marin told parliament. "The only country that threatens European security, and is now openly waging a war of aggression, is Russia."
What has the response been?
European Council President Charles Michel wrote on Twitter that Sweden and Finland's decision to join NATO "improves" Europe's security and "benefits our common security and defense capability."
"The EU's contribution to NATO's deterrence is becoming increasingly invaluable," he said.
The office of French President Emmanuel Macron said he fully supported Sweden's decision to join NATO.
US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, part of a group of US senators visiting both Finland and Sweden as the two countries finalize their bids, said he expected the US would approve Sweden's application "in more rapid fashion than past applications for NATO," with congressional approval likely by August.
Russia has repeatedly warned Finland and Sweden of consequences if they apply to join NATO.
On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that while Finland and Sweden joining NATO posed "no direct threat" to Russia, the "expansion of military infrastructure to these territories will certainly provoke our response."
Finland on same path
Sweden and Finland remained neutral throughout the Cold War, but formed closer relations with NATO after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Tytti Tuppurainen, the Finnish minister for European affairs, told DW on Monday that Finland would not "let Russia intimidate us."
"Russia cannot dictate our own national decisions," Tuppurainen said, adding that Finland's current cooperation with NATO was "already as close" as a country could be without actually being a member, and that the Kremlin's objections were "nothing new."
"We don't expect any military actions against us. It is perfectly safe here. It is peaceful and quiet at our border," she said. "So the intelligence tells that nothing like that is coming. But of course, all sorts of hybrid influencing is possible. We've already seen some interference in the electricity markets and also gas deliveries can be some kind of problem."
wmr/msh (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)