The leader of Sweden’s main opposition party has urged the Scandinavian country to emulate neighboring Finland, stressing that it has the right to join the NATO military alliance in the face of pressure from Russia.
Ulf Kristersson, head of the center-right Moderates, said Sweden’s political parties should show a common front against Russian warnings that Stockholm and Helsinki should not seek NATO membership.
Finland’s President and Prime Minister both emphatically confirmed in their New Year’s speeches that their country had the right to seek membership of the Western military alliance should they so choose.
“Sweden should now, in broad political agreement, do the same as Finland. It will strengthen our country’s security, and it will increase the stability of our part of Europe, ”Kristersson wrote Tuesday night on Facebook.
Russia’s saber-rattling against Ukraine and the gathering of about 100,000 troops on its border has the security debate in the Nordic and Baltic regions and especially in Finland, which, like Sweden, is militarily non-aligned but has a close partnership with NATO.
Jake Sullivan, US national security adviser, spoke to his Nordic counterparts on Tuesday, and “participants reaffirmed the right of every country to choose its alliances”, according to a statement by the White House.
Sweden’s defense debate was much more subdued than Finland’s, largely because the governs center-left Social Democrats is against NATO membership.
All five opposition parties on the right of Swedish politics, including the nationalist Sweden Democrats, voted in favor of accepting an option to seek NATO membership as part of the country’s security policy in 2020, giving them a majority in parliament on the issue.
Ann Linde, the Social Democrat foreign minister, called the vote “very negative for Sweden’s security” and said such decisions should be taken across party lines.
But the debate reopens after Russia’s Foreign Ministry said late last year that if Sweden and Finland joined NATO, there would be “serious military and political consequences that would require an adequate response from the Russian side”.
Linde used to reject Russia’s demands for no new eastern enlargement of NATO, saying it will “reduce the opportunities for independent political choices”.
Yet the center-left government in Stockholm has been silent since Russia’s latest comments and both the prime minister’s office and the foreign ministry have not responded to requests for interviews.
Most security experts expect Finland and Sweden to coordinate any application for NATO membership should they decide to join. But in recent days, some Swedish experts have warned that Stockholm should 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 moved significantly closer to the military alliance and the US in the party’s seven years in government and carried out joint exercises.
The center-right is likely to try to make the subject a major campaign issue ahead of September’s parliamentary elections, as Kristersson may seek, possibly in collaboration with the Sweden Democrats.