Sweden took a major step toward ending its longstanding neutrality policy on Sunday, with the ruling Social Democrats saying it was now in favor of an application to join the NATO military alliance.
The move comes hours after Finnish President Sauli Niinistö confirmed in Helsinki that Finland was moving forward with its own NATO bid and plans to formally submit a proposal to parliament within days.
Since the February 24 Russian invasion of Ukraine, public and elite opinion in both countries has changed dramatically. Sweden’s Social Democrats have long opposed formal NATO membership, in part because they don’t want to provoke Moscow.
“The party committee decided at its meeting on 15 May 2022 that the party will work to push Sweden’s application to join NATO,” the Social Democrats said in a statement.
Social Democrat Prime Minister Magdalena Anderson is expected to begin the formal application process soon, according to Reuters.
The two Scandinavian countries will become NATO’s 31st and 32nd members, and senior alliance officials have said in recent days that both applications could be approved soon. U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and other NATO foreign ministers are discussing the state of war in Ukraine in Berlin, and bids from Finland and Sweden are also expected to be at the top of the agenda.
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Turkey has raised questions about the bid on the grounds that it says key Kurdish exile communities in both countries are linked to violent separatist movements in Turkey.
But NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who strongly supports joining Finland and Sweden, said on Sunday he thought the deadlock could be broken.
“I am confident that we will be able to address the concerns expressed by Turkey without delaying the membership or accession process,” he told reporters in a video link.
This article is based in part on the Wire Transfer Services report.