Finland and Sweden move to brink of NATO membership May 18, 2022 0 0 12345 dpaHelsinki/Brussels Against the backdrop of the Russian war in Ukraine, Sweden and Finland are jointly setting course for NATO membership.On Wednesday, the Nordic countries plan to submit their applications to NATO.Russia played down the consequences of the two countries possibly joining NATO on Tuesday.“Finland, Sweden and other neutral countries have been taking part in NATO military exercises for many years; NATO takes their territory into account in military planning for movement eastwards,” Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. “Therefore, in this sense, there is probably not much difference.” Russia will observe the situation and then draw conclusions, he added. Earlier, the Kremlin had accused the West of waging a diplomatic, economic and political war on Russia.Finland’s legislature voted 188-8 on Tuesday to approve a bid for NATO membership, the same day as Sweden’s foreign minister signed her country’s application.The two nations have accelerated moves to join the Western defence alliance following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Finland has a border with Russia that is more than 1,300 kilometres long, while traditionally neutral Sweden has seen a groundswell of public support for joining the US-led alliance.Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto officially signed the application in the evening. His Swedish counterpart Ann Linde had already signed her country’s application on Tuesday morning, a day after the government announced it wanted to become a NATO member.German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday hailed the applications as a “historic step for the defence alliance and for Europe” and said he would work for a speedy admission procedure.The future NATO membership of Sweden and Finland would “strengthen” the European Union, top EU diplomat Josep Borrell said at a meeting of EU defence ministers in Brussels.The accession of the two Nordic countries to the military alliance would also increase the EU’s “capacity to react” to threats along its border, Borrell added.According to Borrell, NATO’s potential enlargement is “the contrary of what Putin was willing to achieve” by invading Ukraine as Russian President Vladimir Putin “was trying to stop the development of NATO [along] the borders of Russia.” Borrell added that he “hopes NATO will be able to overcome” Turkey’s objections to Finland and Sweden’s bid.Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday he could not agree to the accession of countries that have imposed sanctions on his country and repeated allegations that both nations support “terrorist organizations,” a reference to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Kurdish militia People’s Defence Units (YPG) in Syria.The membership applications from Finland and Sweden must be approved by all 30 NATO states.While NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has repeatedly emphasized in recent weeks that the two Nordic countries are most welcome in the alliance, it is now considered certain that Turkey will attach conditions to their admission.Finnish and Swedish diplomats plan to travel to Ankara this week to talk to representatives of the Turkish Foreign Ministry. “Turkey’s statements have quickly changed and hardened in recent days. But I am sure we can resolve the situation through constructive talks,” Niinistö told the Swedish parliament on Tuesday.According to diplomats, apart from declarations by the Finns and Swedes on the fight against terrorism, arms deals could also play a role.Turkey, for example, wants to buy F-16 fighter jets in the US, but a possible deal is politically controversial in Washington. The hope now is that talks scheduled by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu in New York on Thursday could aid the dispute. Çavusoglu wants to meet with his US counterpart Antony Blinken, among others.If Turkey were to give up its reservations, everything could happen very quickly. The so-called accession protocols could be signed as early as June and the ratification procedures could begin in the member states. 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