With NATO negotiations between Sweden, Finland and Turkey having resumed, it seems increasingly likely that Helsinki will join NATO before Stockholm, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson told a press conference on Tuesday, shooting down hopes for a joint bid with Finland and disappointing Swedish politicians.
Kristersson announced Sweden’s likely prolonged wait to join the NATO alliance alongside Swedish NATO negotiator Oscar Stenström.
“As everyone has heard in recent weeks, it is not excluded that Sweden and Finland will ratify in different steps,” the centre-right prime minister told the press conference.
“What Oscar Stenström and I have encountered in recent weeks is that the likelihood of this happening at different rates has increased,” he added.
Turkey has previously indicated that it may ratify only Finland’s NATO application due to Sweden refusing to extradite members of the Turkish opposition, mainly Kurds, who had taken refuge on its territory, and the burning of the Quran by a far-right activist.
NATO negotiations between Sweden, Turkey and Finland resumed at the end of February after a short break, but so far, the countries have not reached a solution as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared earlier in February that he will not accept Sweden’s application if Stockholm does not ban Quran burnings, which the Swedish government refused to do.
However, Kristersson stressed that the decision is in Turkey’s hands and that Sweden is ready to handle a situation where Finland joins NATO without Sweden.
NATO Secretary General “Jens Stoltenberg usually points out that it is not a long-term problem if this happens. Basically, this is not about whether Sweden becomes a NATO member, but about when Sweden becomes a NATO member,” Kristersson added.
Stenström, for his part, has claimed that Sweden held “trusting talks” with Turkey but that they still believe that Sweden has some way to go to fulfil the agreement signed in Madrid last year.
“No similar dissatisfaction was expressed to Finland, which can be interpreted as Turkey thinking that Finland has come much further in fulfilling its part of the memorandum,” he added.
Sweden, Finland and Turkey signed an agreement during a NATO summit in Madrid last June, according to which Turkey agreed to open the door to Sweden and Finland provided they address Turkey’s concerns regarding arms exports, extradition and the fight against terrorism.
Former Prime minister and Social Democratic Party opposition leader Magdalena Andersson also expressed disappointment at the announcement.
“It’s just as well to say it would not be good for Sweden. It would also be a setback for NATO’s open door policy”, she said at a press conference on Tuesday.
“What we must now do in Sweden is to work to ensure that, if Finland comes in first, that time is as short as possible and that Sweden is strong during that time,” she added.
The Social-democratic leader also warned that a split between Sweden and Finland would benefit Russian interests as “Russian threats and influence campaigns against Sweden will increase”.