HELSINKI (AP) — Sweden will not be in a fragile security situation even if Finland joins NATO first, the Finnish president said Sunday, as both Nordic candidate countries negotiate bilateral military pacts with the United States.
“It is possible that Finland will join NATO before Sweden,” said Finnish President Sauli Niinistö in an interview published by Sweden’s public broadcaster SVT on Sunday. “Should we have refused Turkey’s offer to ratify? That sounds a bit crazy. It would have been a terribly difficult situation if we had said ‘no’ to Ankara.”
Niinistö was referring to his Friday visit to Ankara, where Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his government would go ahead with ratifying Finland’s NATO application, paving the way for joining the military bloc, but the bid of Sweden would not ratify before disputes between Ankara. and Stockholm have been resolved.
Both Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO 10 months ago, in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, giving up decades of non-alignment.
NATO needs the unanimous approval of its 30 existing members to expand, and Turkey and Hungary are the only countries that have not yet ratified the Nordic duo’s bids.
Should negotiations over Sweden’s NATO membership with Turkey drag on, many Swedish security policy experts agree that this would put Stockholm in a vulnerable military position in the Baltic Sea region.
Niinistö said Finland, Sweden and Denmark are currently holding separate talks with the United States on security issues in an effort to reach a bilateral military pact similar to what Norway has previously signed with Washington.
“I think that’s a big change, almost bigger than NATO membership,” Niinistö said of ongoing talks with the US when asked what will happen to Sweden’s security if talks to join NATO drag on. “It means a lot if we (Scandinavian countries) all have a direct and quite similar (military) agreement with the United States.”
Since announcing their intention to join NATO in May 2022, Finland and Sweden have pledged to jointly join the Western military alliance at the same time.
Niinistö told SVT that the Nordic neighbors were determined to enter NATO “hand in hand as long as it is in our hands, but the ratification of Finland’s NATO membership is in the hands of Turkey and Hungary.”