Sweden took a major step toward ending its longstanding policy of neutrality Sunday as the ruling Social Democratic Party said it now favored applying for membership in the NATO military alliance.
The move came just hours after Finnish President Sauli Niinisto confirmed in Helsinki that Finland was moving forward with its own NATO bid, with plans to formally submit the proposal to parliament within days.
Public and elite opinion in both countries has shifted sharply since the Russian invasion of Ukraine Feb. 24. Sweden‘s Social Democrats had long opposed formal NATO membership in part because they did not want to provoke Moscow.
“The party board has at its meeting on May 15, 2022 decided that the party will work toward Sweden applying for membership in NATO,” the Social Democrats said in a statement.
Social Democratic Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson is expected to begin the process for a formal application soon, the Reuters news service reported.
The two Scandinavian countries would be the 31st and 32nd members of NATO, and top alliance officials have said in recent days both applications would likely be approved quickly. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other NATO foreign ministers are in Berlin discussing the state of the war in Ukraine, and the anticipated Finnish and Swedish bids are likely to be high on the agenda as well.
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Turkey has raised some questions about the bids, citing what it said were significant Kurdish exile communities in both countries with links to violent separatist movements inside Turkey.
But NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who has strongly championed adding Finland and Sweden, said Sunday he thought the impasse could be finessed.
“I’m confident that we will be able to address the concerns that Turkey has expressed in a way that doesn’t delay the membership or the accession process,” he told reporters in a video link.
This article was based in part on wire service reports.