Swedish Social Democrat tabloid backs Nato as Finland starts debate

Sweden's main Social Democrat newspaper has backed the country joining Nato on the day that Finland's parliament holds a historic debate on the alliance.

Swedish Social Democrat tabloid backs Nato as Finland starts debate
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky speaks to the Finnish parliament at the start of this month. Photo: Finnish parliament.

The Aftonbladet newspaper, which describes itself as reflecting an “independent Social Democrat” viewpoint, dropped its support for Sweden’s long-held policy of non-alignment, with the newspaper’s chief political editor Anders Lindberg arguing in an editorial on Wednesday morning, that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine now makes membership of the security organisation necessary.

“Vladimir Putin’s war demonstrates that we need to join Nato to guarantee Sweden’s security,” Lindberg, who is often seen as the voice of Social Democrat orthodoxy, wrote in his article.

The editorial came on the day that Finland’s parliament is set to hold a historic, five-hour debate over how to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and increased Russian belligerence, which is expected to lead to it backing a Finnish application to join.

The key will be the position taken by the Social Democrats, the party led by Prime Minister Sanna Marin, and also that taken by the Centre Party, who say they will back Nato membership, if the government does. 

In a sign of how closely the two neighbours’ governments are working together on the issue, Marin chose to come to Stockholm on the day her government published its analysis of the new security situation, holding a joint press conference with Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.

READ ALSO: How soon could Sweden apply to join Nato?

In his article, Lindberg argued that if Finland, which is closely aligned to Sweden militarily, decides to join Nato, Sweden’s security will be at risk if it does not follow. 

“It’s most likely that Helsinki is now going to apply for membership in Nato, and as a result the last weighty argument from Sweden’s point of view is going to fall,” he wrote. 

Finland, he noted, is “our most important security partner today”. 

“If they decide to join Nato without us, then that deep relationship will be almost impossible to continue, and that will make is significantly weaker,” he said. 

“I have never previously supported Swedish membership of Nato,” he concluded. “On the contrary, I have argued that non-alignment, a strong national defence, and a pragmatic foreign and security policy has worked extremely well. It has kept us out of war and promoted our national interests.”

But he said that Russia’s invasion had created a “security deficit in Northern Europe”.

“When I read the arguments for continued military non-alignment, I cannot see any answers to the question of how we should compensate for this deficit.” 

The debate in Finland’s parliament starts at 1.15pm, Swedish time. 

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EXPLAINED: Could Turkey block Sweden from Nato membership?

At the last minute, Turkey has thrown up objections to a future Swedish Nato membership. What's going on?

EXPLAINED: Could Turkey block Sweden from Nato membership?

What’s happened? 

On Friday, Turkey’s president surprised everyone in the Nato process by saying that it “would be a mistake” to admit Finland and Sweden, given the way the two countries have sheltered members of groups which Turkey views as terrorist, such as the Kurdish nationalist PKK and YPG, and members of the Gülenist movement. On Saturday, Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde met her counterpart Mevlüt Cavusoglu, but failed to make any headway. 

Why is Turkey unhappy? 

Turkey has long accused Sweden, and to a lesser extent Finland, of providing asylum to members of PKK, an armed group fighting for parts of northeastern Turkey to become a Kurdish homeland, which is designated a terrorist organisation by the US, EU and some other countries. 

There are no official statistics on the number of Kurds living in Sweden, but Kurdish groups estimate the number at as much as 100,000, including six MPs of Kurdish origin. 

Sweden has given significant support to the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, which is defended by the YPG militia, which Turkey views as a terrorist group. Sweden has given the administration some $50 million in aid. 

“The problem is that these two countries are openly supporting and engaging with PKK and YPG [People’s Protection Units],” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Saturday as he arrived at a Nato meeting in Berlin. “These are terrorist organisations that have been attacking our troops every day.” 

What does Turkey want? 

According to Reuters, Turkey has demanded that Sweden and Finland extradite a wish-list of 33 people it sees as linked to the PKK, YPG, or else to the Gülenist movement Turkey blames for a coup attempt in 2016. 

Çavuşoğlu has also called for Sweden and Finland to clamp down on “outlets, activities, organisations, individuals and other types of presence” linked to the PKK. 

He has also called for and end to what he called “arms aid” from Sweden to Kurdish organisations. 

What has Sweden done so far? 

Sweden’s foreign minister Ann Linde met with Cavusoglu on Saturday. After the meeting, she was categorical that Sweden viewed PKK as a terrorist group, but said that she did believe that the Kurdish government in northern Syria was part of the same organisation. 

Both Sweden and Finland have refused to extradite the individuals on Turkey’s wish-list. 

Sweden’s defence minister Peter Hultqvist told Swedish state broadcaster SVT on Monday that Sweden would now send a group of officials to Turkey to try to work out how to meet the country’s concerns. 

Might Turkey end up blocking Sweden’s membership? 

For a new member to be admitted to Nato requires the consensus of all existing members, so theoretically, yes, it could. 

But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, on Saturday expressed a willingness to compromise. 

“We are not closing the door. But we are basically raising this issue as a matter of national security for Turkey,” Kalin told Reuters in an interview. 

Hultqvist told Swedish television on Monday that Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had told him that Turkey had not raised any objections to Swedish and Finnish membership earlier in the process and that he expected that an agreement could be reached.