The Swedish government has confirmed that it will be joining neighbouring Finland in applying for membership of the United States-led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).
The Swedish Prime Minister, Magdalena Andersson, told a press conference on Monday following a parliamentary debate in Sweden, the UK Guardian reports.
“There is a broad majority in Sweden’s parliament for Sweden to join NATO,” Andersson said on Monday.
“This is the best thing for Sweden’s security. We will inform NATO that we want to become a member of the alliance.”
The Prime Minister said that Sweden would be “in a vulnerable position” while the application was being processed, but that she felt “confident that there is support for this among the Swedish people.”
The Finnish Government also confirmed its intentions to join NATO on Sunday, while Andersson’s ruling Social Democrats agreed to drop their longstanding opposition to the idea, paving the way for membership applications within days.
The decision by the two governments, both of which have remained neutral or non-aligned since the end of the Second World War, drew a sharp initial response from Russia, which described it as a serious mistake with far-reaching consequences.
“The situation is, of course, changing radically in light of what is happening,” Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said on Monday.
“The fact that Finland and Sweden’s security will not be strengthened as a result of this is very clear to us.”
Ryabkov added that the two Nordic nations “should have no illusions that we will simply put up with it”, warning that the move was “another grave mistake with far-reaching consequences” and the “general level of military tension will increase.”
The Swedish and Finnish parliaments debated the issue on Monday, with the session in Helsinki set to last several days. While 85% of Finland’s 200 MPs back membership, 150 have requested to speak and a vote was not expected on Monday.
“Our security environment has fundamentally changed,” the Finnish prime minister, Sanna Marin, told parliament as she opened the debate.
“The only country that threatens European security, and is now openly waging a war of aggression, is Russia.”
The Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, also said on Monday that Moscow would “follow very carefully what will be the consequences” of the Nordic nations’ move “for our security, which must be ensured in an absolutely unconditional manner”.
The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, said Russia did not see Finnish and Swedish NATO membership as a direct threat in itself, but warned that deployment of military infrastructure in their territories “would certainly provoke our response.”
Finland shares an 810-mile (1,300km) land border with Russia and Sweden a maritime border. Both countries have for decades considered that joining the 30-member, US-led NATO alliance would represent an unnecessary provocation of Moscow.
However, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 has led to a profound change in Nordic thinking, with public support for NATO accession in Finland more than trebling to about 75% and rising to between 50% and 60% in Sweden.
In Stockholm, Andersson told MPs “a historic change in our country’s security policy” was underway and that Sweden “needs the formal security guarantees that come with NATO’s membership.”