The leader of Sweden’s largest opposition party called on the Scandinavian country to emulate neighboring Finland and emphasize that it has the right to join NATO’s military alliance in the face of pressure from Russia.
Ulf Kristersson, head of the center-right Moderates, said that Sweden’s political parties should show a common front against Russian warnings that Stockholm and Helsinki should not seek NATO membership.
The President of Finland and the Prime Minister both clearly confirmed in their New Year’s speeches that their country had the right to apply for membership in the Western Military Alliance if they chose to do so.
“Sweden should now, in broad political agreement, do the same as Finland. It would strengthen our country’s security and it would increase stability in our part of Europe, says Kristersson wrote on Facebook on Tuesday night.
Russia’s saber race against Ukraine and the gathering of about 100,000 soldiers at its border has stimulated the security debate in the Nordic and Baltic countries and especially in Finland, which like Sweden is militarily non-aligned but has close cooperation with NATO.
Jake Sullivan, the US National Security Adviser, spoke with his Nordic counterparts on Tuesday, and “participants confirmed the right of each country to choose its alliances”, according to a statement of the White House.
Sweden’s defense debate has been far more subdued than Finland’s, largely because the ruling center-left Social Democrats are opposed to NATO membership.
All five opposition parties on the right in Swedish politics, including the nationalist Sweden Democrats, voted yes to adopt an opportunity to apply for NATO membership as part of the country’s security policy 2020, giving them a majority in parliament on the issue.
Ann Linde, the Social Democrats’ foreign minister, then called the vote “very negative for Sweden’s security” and said that such decisions should be made across party lines.
But the debate has resumed after Russia’s Foreign Ministry sa at the end of last year that if Sweden and Finland joined NATO, it would have “serious military and political consequences that would require an adequate response from Russia”.
Linde had before rejected Russia’s demand for no new enlargement east of NATO says it would “reduce the chances of making independent political choices”.
Nevertheless, the center-left government in Stockholm has been silent since Russia’s latest comments, and both the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to requests for interviews.
Most security experts expect Finland and Sweden to coordinate each application for NATO membership should they decide to join. But in recent days, some Swedish experts have warned that Stockholm must prepare for Helsinki to act on its own as the debate in Finland is more advanced.
Despite the Swedish Social Democrats’ skepticism about joining NATO, the country has come much closer to the military alliance and the United States during the party’s seven years in government and has carried out joint exercises.
The center-right will probably try to make the subject a major campaign issue ahead of the parliamentary elections in September when Kristersson seeks power, possibly in collaboration with the Sweden Democrats.