Finland and Sweden joining NATO would be a “serious mistake”, according to Moscow

Russia told Finland and Sweden that their decision to join NATO’s military alliance was a serious mistake with far-reaching consequences and that they should not assume that Moscow would not respond.

Finland’s government on Sunday confirmed its intention to join NATO while Sweden’s ruling party agreed to drop its longstanding opposition to the idea, paving the way for a joint membership application within days.

The decisions of the two governments, both of which have remained neutral or non-aligned since the end of the Second World War, herald a historic reshaping of the map of European security caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

“The situation is, of course, changing dramatically in light of what is happening,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Monday. “The fact that the security of Finland and Sweden will not be strengthened as a result of this is very clear to us.”

Mr Ryabkov added that the two Nordic countries “should have no illusions that we are just going to put up with it”, warning that this decision was “another serious mistake with far-reaching consequences” and that “the general level of military tension will increase”.

Russia has repeatedly warned the two countries against joining NATO, saying such a move would require it to “restore the military balance” by strengthening its defenses in the Baltic Sea region, including by deploying nuclear weapons.

Finland shares a 1,300 km (8,100 mile) land border with Russia and Sweden a maritime border. The two countries have considered for decades that joining the 30-member US-led NATO alliance would represent an unnecessary provocation by Moscow.

However, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine caused a sea change in Nordic thinking, with public support for NATO membership in Finland more than tripling to around 75% and reaching between 50% and 60% in Sweden.

The Swedish and Finnish parliaments began debating the issue on Monday, with the session in Helsinki expected to last several days. While 85% of Finland’s 200 MPs support membership, 150 have asked to speak and a vote was not scheduled for Monday.

“Our security environment has fundamentally changed,” Prime Minister Sanna Marin told parliament as she opened the debate on Monday. “The only country that threatens European security and is now openly waging a war of aggression is Russia.”

In Stockholm, where the parliamentary vote was also to be a formality, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson told MPs that “a historic change in our country’s security policy” was underway and that Sweden “needs the formal security guarantees that accompany NATO”. membership”.

She added: “Unfortunately, we have no reason to believe that the current trend [of Russia’s actions] will be reversed in the foreseeable future. An official decision from the Swedish government to join the alliance is expected later on Monday.

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö is expected in Stockholm for an official visit on Tuesday and Wednesday, suggesting that a joint bid by the two Nordic neighbors to join the alliance could be officially submitted within the next three days.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said countries would be “welcomed with open arms” and join quickly, although Turkish objections could delay the process, which requires unanimity among members.

Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist said on Monday that Stockholm was trying to overcome Ankara’s reservations, centering on Swedish support for the Kurdish group PKK, designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the EU and the states -United.

“We will send a group of diplomats to hold discussions and have a dialogue with Turkey so that we can see how this can be resolved and what it is really about,” Hultqvist said.

Speaking ahead of a meeting with EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly called for Finland and Sweden to join quickly.

“Our goal is to be among the first countries to be able to ratify the accession of Sweden and Finland, because we know that the intermediate period between application for membership and ratification must be shortened”, he said. she declared.

Ms Joly added that she had had discussions with Turkey, saying: “We have to meet this moment, it is historic and it is much more important than any bilateral problem”.

Both NATO and the United States have said they are confident that Turkey will not delay Sweden’s membership. “I am confident that we will be able to address the concerns expressed by Turkey in a way that does not delay accession,” Stoltenberg said on Sunday.

Pushed back

Meanwhile, Ukraine said on Monday that troops defending the country’s second city, Kharkiv, had pushed back Russian forces and advanced to the border with Russia.

Reuters could not immediately verify Ukraine’s battlefield account and it was unclear how many soldiers reached the Russian border and where.

If confirmed, this would suggest that a Ukrainian counter-offensive is increasingly successful in pushing back Russian forces in the northeast after Western military agencies said Moscow’s offensive in the Donbass region was at the dead point.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said in a Facebook post that the 227th Battalion of the 127th Brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces had reached the border with Russia, adding: “Together towards victory!

Kharkiv region governor Oleh Sinegubov wrote on the Telegram messaging app that troops from the 227th battalion restored a sign at the state border.

“We thank all those who, at the risk of their lives, liberate Ukraine from Russian invaders,” Sinegubov said.

Ukraine has scored a string of successes since invading Russia, forcing Russian commanders to abandon an advance on the capital kyiv before making quick gains around Kharkiv.

Moscow calls its invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation” to rid the country of fascists, a claim kyiv and its Western allies see as a baseless pretext for unprovoked war. – Guardian/Reuters

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