NATO received formal membership bids from Finland and Sweden as Russia’s war in Ukraine reshapes European defense, but the Nordic nations must first overcome opposition from Turkey.
“This is a good day at a critical moment for our security,” the alliance’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, told reporters. “This is a historic moment which we should seize.”
Membership requires unanimous agreement among alliance members, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday signaled he wouldn’t allow the Nordic nations to join, alleging they support Kurdish militants his government regards as terrorists.
For the first step, all 30 NATO ambassadors must agree to proceed with the application, after which Sweden and Finland could start accession talks with the alliance. Diplomats are expected to convene later Wednesday, according to people familiar with the matter.
Turkey is engaged in talks with Sweden and Finland, and NATO members say they’re confident the Turkish concerns can be overcome.
Bringing Sweden and Finland into NATO would fortify the alliance’s defense in the northeast and would mark the biggest shift in Europe’s security landscape to emerge since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The traditionally non-aligned countries boast NATO-standard militaries with strong navies and growing defense budgets, as well as major air power.
Finland was driven into the fold of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation by Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, and pulled neighbouring Sweden along. The attack shifted popular opinion overnight in both countries, with policy makers rapidly kicking off the process to join, even as Russia has kept warning the pair with potential consequences.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, who is traveling to Washington, D.C. on Thursday with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, said he’s “optimistic” Turkey’s stance can be “managed through discussions.”