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NATO

Could Finland go it alone if Sweden is blocked from joining Nato?

Finland may have to consider joining Nato without Sweden if Turkey continues to drag its feet on their neighbour's application, the Finnish foreign minister said on Tuesday. But he added that a joint application remains the preferred option.

Could Finland go it alone if Sweden is blocked from joining Nato?
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, left, at a news conference with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström, right, in December. Photo: AP Photo/Cliff Owen

“We have to assess the situation, whether something has happened that in the longer term would prevent Sweden from going ahead,” Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told broadcaster Yle.

He added that it was “too early to take a position on that now” and that a joint application remained the “first option”.

Sweden’s Foreign Minister Tobias Billström told media on Tuesday that he was “in contact with Finland to find out what this really means”.

Haavisto later clarified his comments at a press conference, saying he did not want to “speculate” on Finland joining alone “as both countries seem to be making progress”, and emphasising their commitment to a joint application.

But “of course, somewhere in the back of our minds, we are thinking about different worlds where some countries would be permanently barred from membership”, he said.

The Danish-Swedish far-right extremist Rasmus Paludan set fire to a copy of the Muslim holy book on Saturday in front of Turkey’s embassy in the Swedish capital, angering Ankara and Muslim countries around the world.

“Sweden should not expect support from us for Nato,” Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Monday in his first official response to the act.

“It is clear that those who caused such a disgrace in front of our country’s embassy can no longer expect any benevolence from us regarding their application for Nato membership,” Erdoğan said.

Swedish leaders have roundly condemned the Koran burning but defended their country’s broad definition of free speech.

“I want to express my sympathy for all Muslims who are offended by what has happened in Stockholm today,” Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson tweeted on Saturday.

The incident came just weeks after a support group for armed Kurdish groups in Syria, the Rojava Committee, hung an effigy of Erdoğan by the ankles in front of Stockholm City Hall, sparking outrage in Ankara.

Haavisto said the anti-Turkey protests had “clearly put a brake on the progress” of the applications by Finland and Sweden to join the trans-Atlantic military alliance.

“My own assessment is that there will be a delay, which will certainly last until the Turkish elections in mid-May,” Haavisto said.

‘Plan B’ out in the open

Turkey has indicated in recent months that it has no major objections to Finland’s entry into Nato.

Finland had refused until now to speculate on the option of joining without Sweden, emphasising the benefits of joint membership with its close neighbour.

But “frustration has grown in various corners of Helsinki”, and “for the first time it was said out loud that there are other possibilities”, Matti Pesu, a researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, told AFP.

“There has been a change” in the Finnish position, he said. “These Plan Bs are being said out loud.”

Haavisto also accused the protesters of “playing with the security of Finland and Sweden”, with actions that “are clearly intended to provoke Turkey”.

“We are on a very dangerous path because the protests are clearly delaying Turkey’s willingness and ability to get this matter through parliament,” he said.

Pesu noted that while Turkey had so far given no indication it would treat the two applications “separately”, it will be “interesting to see how Turkey reacts” to Haavisto’s comments.

Sweden and Finland last year applied to become members of Nato after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, ending decades-long policies of military non-alignment.

Their Nato bids must be ratified by all members of the alliance, of which Turkey is a member.

Turkey signed a memorandum of understanding with the two Nordic countries at the end of June, paving the way for the membership process to begin.

But Ankara says its demands remain unfulfilled, in particular for the extradition of Turkish citizens that Turkey wants to prosecute for “terrorism”.

Article by AFP’s Elias Huuhtanen

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MILITARY

Sweden doesn’t rule out sending Leopard tanks to Ukraine

Sweden does not 'exclude' sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, said Defence Minister Pål Jonsson.

Sweden doesn't rule out sending Leopard tanks to Ukraine

His comments come after Germany gave the greenlight for them to be given to Kyiv.

Following weeks of pressure from Ukraine and other allies, Berlin finally agreed to send 14 Leopard 2 tanks, seen as among the best in the world.

The move opened the way for other European nations that operate Leopards to send tanks from their own fleets to Ukraine, further building up the combined-arms arsenal Kyiv needs to launch counter-offensives.

“I don’t exclude the possibility that we can do that in the future, working with other countries,” Jonson told AFP in an interview.

“We could possibly contribute in various ways. It could be related to logistics, maintenance, training, but also tanks as such.”

Sweden, which has broken with its doctrine of not delivering weapons to a country at war, last week pledged a major package of arms for Ukraine, including modern howitzers and armoured vehicles.

“Right now our focus is on delivering that rather substantial contribution,” Jonson said.

EXPLAINED:

On Wednesday he held talks with senior Nato officials in Brussels with Sweden’s bid to join the Western military alliance facing fresh problems from Turkey.

Ankara on Tuesday postponed accession talks with Sweden and Finland, lashing out at Stockholm over protests that included the burning of the Koran.

The decision further diminished the chances of Turkey ratifying their Nato bids before its May presidential and parliamentary elections.

Jonson insisted that it remained a top priority for the Swedish government to become a member of the alliance “as quickly as possible”.

“We’re respectful that this is of course a decision for Turkey and for its parliament,” he said.

Sweden dropped a long-standing policy of non-alignment last year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sparked fears that the country was outside Nato’s collective security umbrella.

Jonson said Sweden already felt “considerably more secure” after receiving assurances from powers including the United States, Britain and France.

“Of course, being a full member of Nato will provide us with Article Five and the security guarantees, and that’s important of course as well,” he said.

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