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Sweden clears final hurdle to join NATO with Hungary vote

Niclas Rolander, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

Sweden cleared the final obstacle to gaining NATO membership in a move that will solidify the alliance’s grip over Northern Europe and the Baltic region.

The approval by Hungary’s parliament Monday came 21 months after the Nordic country submitted its membership bid jointly with Finland in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

With the wider war now in its third year and support to Kyiv flagging, Sweden’s accession into NATO helps bolster Europe’s security amid rising concerns Russia could even target the bloc’s members in the future.

“Sweden now leaves 200 years of neutrality and non-alignment behind,” Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson told reporters in Stockholm. “That’s a big step — we should take that seriously. But it is also a very natural step to take.”

President Vladimir Putin’s aggression on Ukraine was partly aimed at preventing NATO from expanding further eastward. As Ukraine suffers from severe shortages of ammunition and has recently lost ground on the battlefield, there are fears that onslaught may represent just the first phase of broader imperial ambitions. Military leaders in Sweden have warned its citizens to be mentally prepared for war.

The Swedish membership is due to become finalized within a matter of days, once ratification documents are deposited with the U.S. State Department, after which Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg will invite Sweden to accede to the Washington Treaty. No date for the ceremony has been set yet, Kristersson said.

 

When Finland became a member in April, it doubled the length of the border NATO shares with Russia. Adding Sweden strengthens the defense of that eastern flank, allowing the alliance to dominate the Baltic Sea region and facilitating the transit of troops and equipment from Norway’s North Sea ports to the east.

The accession also represents a momentous shift for a nation that pursued various versions of neutrality to stay out of wars for 200 years. The Russian invasion of Ukraine two years ago overturned Sweden’s security calculus, prompting an about-face by a government then led by the Social Democratic party, previously a staunch opponent of NATO membership for decades.

While Sweden was welcomed by most allies with open arms, the accession process has been a grueling experience, full of stops and starts. Turkey long demanded concessions, until it finally ratified in January after securing a U.S. pledge on the sale of F-16 fighter jets. That left Hungary as the only holdout, even as Prime Minister Viktor Orban had vowed to not be the last country to pass the bid.

The Hungarian leader, who struggled to articulate the reason behind his foot-dragging, relented after a visit to Budapest by his Swedish counterpart last week. Portrayed by Orban as a trust-building exercise, the visit also involved the two countries agreeing on a sale of Swedish Gripen warplanes to Hungary’s air force.

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