Ukraine war: Turkey objects as Sweden and Finland seek NATO membership - what has Russia said?

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson has confirmed the country will proceed in applying to NATO despite warnings of Russian retaliation

Sweden has decided to join neighbouring Finland in seeking NATO membership, ending more than two centuries of military nonalignment in a historic shift prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Finland, which shares an 800 mile-long border with Russia, confirmed its application on 15 May, with Sweden making the same confirmation 24 hours later.

The two countries have been given defensive guarantees from NATO members and neighbours during the application process after Russia openly criticised the move.

However, the move drew strong objections from Turkey, a key NATO member, who declared the two nations should not be allowed to join because they have been too lax in taking action against Kurdish militants, and countries can only join if all current members agree.

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson warned that the Nordic country would be in a “vulnerable position” during the application period and urged her fellow citizens to brace themselves for the Russian response.

She said: “Russia has said that that it will take countermeasures if we join Nato. We cannot rule out that Sweden will be exposed to, for instance, disinformation and attempts to intimidate and divide us.”

Sweden’s move came a day after the country’s governing Social Democratic party endorsed a plan for Sweden to join the trans-Atlantic alliance and Finland’s government announced that it would seek to join NATO.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ratcheted up his objection to Sweden and Finland joining and accused the countries of failing to take a “clear” stance against Kurdish militants and other groups that his country considers to as terrorists, and of imposing military sanctions on Turkey. Mr Erdogan also accused the two countries of refusing to extradite “terrorists” wanted by his country.

He said: “Neither country has an open, clear stance against terrorist organisations. During this process, we cannot say ‘yes’ to those who impose sanctions on Turkey, on joining NATO, which is a security organisation.”

Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson has confirmed the country will apply for NATO membership. (Credit: Getty Images)

What did Sweden say about joining NATO?

In a news conference on 16 May, Prime Minister Andersson confirmed the country would go ahead in applying for NATO membership.

She said: “There is a broad majority in Sweden’s parliament for Sweden to join NATO.

“This is the best thing for the security of Sweden and its people. We will inform NATO that we want to become a member of the alliance.”

Ms Andersson told reporters there was public support for the move, adding the country would be in a “vulnerable position” during the application period.

However, she did also say that ministers did not believe Russia would use direct military threat at this moment in time.

Ulf Kristersson, leader of the Swedish opposition Moderate party, called the move “historic”, adding: “It’s not about party politics, but taking joint responsibility for the country’s security interests. We will take responsibility jointly for this process.”

Sweden’s application is set to be sent alongside Finland’s.

What did Finland say about joining NATO?

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö confirmed the country would be stepping away from its decades-long military non-alignment in a news conference on 15 May.

He said: “The president and the government’s foreign policy committee have agreed that after consulting parliament, Finland will apply for Nato membership.

“A protected Finland is being born as part of a stable, strong and responsible Nordic region. We gain security, and we also share it. It’s good to keep in mind that security isn’t a zero-sum game.”

What has Russia said about Sweden and Finland joining NATO?

After it was announced the two countries were considering joining NATO, Russia immediately criticised the move.

Russia has been vocal in its opposition to NATO expanding eastwards for many years, using this as part of the justification in building up forces at the Ukrainian border prior to the invasion.

Vladimir Putin has said that Finland and Sweden joining the alliance would not create an “immediate threat to Russia”.

He said: “As to enlargement, Russia has no problem with these states - none. And so in this sense there is no immediate threat to Russia from an expansion to include these countries.”

However, he did give a veiled threat if NATO weapons were to be placed in Finland and Sweden after membership has been granted, saying that it “would certainly provoke our response”.

He added: “What that will be - we will see what threats are created for us.”

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov had previously warned the two Nordic countries they “should have no illusions that we will simply put up” with the expansion of NATO on its doorstep.