‘Yellow and blue flags stand for freedom’: Zelensky to Sweden’s Riksdag

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has praised Sweden's "historic decision" to send weapons to Ukraine, in a speech to the Swedish parliament.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaking to the Swedish parliament on Thursday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaking to the Swedish parliament on Thursday. Photo: Paul Wennerholm/TT

Zelensky began his speech by referencing the identical colours of the Swedish and Ukrainian flags. 

“It’s no coincidence that both Ukraine’s and Sweden’s flags are blue and yellow, because we stand for freedom, justice and equal rights for all,” he said in a video link speech that got a standing ovation. “It is simple logic that Sweden is among the countries that has supported Ukraine the most.” 

In his speech, he thanked Sweden for the weapons it had sent to his country, called for tighter sanctions on Russia, and requested help in rebuilding his country’s cities in the aftermath of the war.  “It was a historic decision for Sweden to send military aid,” he said. “We are thankful for that”. 

Not a member of NATO and officially militarily non-aligned, Stockholm on Thursday announced a second delivery of 5,000 anti-tank launchers.

Zelensky, who has made multiple appearances by video link before parliaments in other countries in recent weeks, was due to address an extraordinary NATO summit later Thursday.

In his speech to Sweden, Zelensky warned that Europe’s own future was at stake in the conflict in Ukraine, saying that Russia would “destroy freedom” across the continent and pursue its neighbours. 

“If Ukraine wouldn’t endure and protect ourselves, it would mean that … all neighbours of Russia are in danger from now on,” he said.  “This is a fundamental challenge for the European security and defence system.”

He warned Sweden that Moscow had its Baltic Sea island of Gotland in its sights. Sweden reopened its garrison on Gotland in 2018, in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, after shutting it down in 2004.

“It would mean that you are in danger, because it is only the sea that divides you and this aggressive policy”, he said

“Russian propagandists already discuss on air, on TV broadcasts, how Russia will occupy Gotland and how they will control it for decades”, he added. “They think it would be comfortable to put anti-defence systems and bases there to cover the advance on the Baltic states.”

When it came to sanctions, he called for a new, tougher, sanctions package every week, a ban on the use of Russian oil, and  for Sweden to bar Russian ships from its ports. 

He talked of the damage Russia had already done to his country. “Why has Russia done this?” he asked. “Why are they turning their neighbours into slaves?” he asked.

“If Ukraine had not defended itself,” he declared. “It would have meant that everything that both we and you value would disappear.” 

Support for NATO membership has soared in Sweden since Russia’s invasion, but Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson has so far ruled out the idea. Joining the alliance risks “destabilising” northern Europe, she said.

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Russia expels Swedish diplomats in retaliation for ‘hostile actions’

Moscow on Tuesday said it was expelling three Swedish diplomats after Stockholm expelled three Russian diplomats over the conflict in Ukraine, despite Sweden saying four were dismissed.

Russia expels Swedish diplomats in retaliation for 'hostile actions'

Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement it summoned the Swedish ambassador to Russia and “strongly protested” the expulsion of Russian diplomats and Sweden’s “military support to the Kyiv regime”.

It also accused Sweden of “covering up the crimes of Ukrainian nationalists against the civilian population of Donbas and Ukraine,” referring to a region in eastern Ukraine, parts of which are controlled by pro-Russia separatists.

“In response to this, the Russian side decided to declare persona non grata three diplomats of the Swedish embassy in Russia,” the ministry said.

In early April, Sweden said it was expelling three Russian diplomats who conducted “illegal operations”, following similar moves by other EU allies.

Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde said the action was “very regrettable,” but said that a total of four diplomats had been expelled — three from the embassy in Moscow and another at the Swedish consulate in Saint Petersburg.

In a written response to AFP, Linde stressed that Sweden expelled the Russians because they had conducted operations that “violated the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations,” but claimed the Swedish diplomats had conducted “traditional diplomatic activities.”

“Sweden will respond in an appropriate manner to Russia’s unwarranted and disproportionate actions,” Linde said.