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  05 Jul 2022, 23:46

NATO launches membership process for Sweden, Finland

BRUSSELS, July  5, 2022 (BSS/AFP) - NATO on Tuesday kicked off momentous
accession procedures for Sweden and Finland, aiming to expand the military
alliance to 32 countries in reaction to Russia's war in Ukraine.

"This is an historic day, for Finland, for Sweden, for NATO, and for
Euro-Atlantic security," NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said after protocols were
signed launching the required ratification process in all alliance countries.

The foreign ministers of Sweden and Finland, alongside Stoltenberg, also
qualified the occasion as "historic".

"The membership of both Finland and Sweden will not only contribute to our
own security, but to the collective security of the alliance," said Finland's
Pekka Haavisto.

The two Nordic countries had long maintained non-alignment status, even
though they have held exercises with NATO and have inter-operable weapons
systems.

They announced intentions to join NATO in May, triggered by Russia's
February invasion of Ukraine and ongoing war there.

In a sudden change of course, Sweden and Finland -- the latter of which
fought a Soviet invasion in 1939-1940 and shares a 1,340-kilometre (830-mile)
border with Russia -- asked to come under NATO's mutual-defence umbrella.

Their bids hit a road-bump when Turkey, a NATO member, threatened to block
their entry.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had accused Sweden and Finland of
being havens for Kurdish militants he has sought to crush, and for promoting
"terrorism".

He also demanded they lift arms embargoes imposed for Turkey's 2019
military incursion into Syria.

But Erdogan dropped his objections last week, in time for a NATO summit in
Spain, after negotiations resulted in concessions -- and a US promise of new
warplanes for Turkey.

The summit ended up extending invitations to Sweden and Finland to formally
apply, leading to lightning-fast negotiations on Monday then Tuesday's signing.

- Security commitments -

Erdogan says he could still slam the door shut if Sweden and Finland don't
follow through on their promises, which include possible extradition agreements.

The months-long period during which all NATO countries have to ratify the
Nordic countries' membership is a risky moment, not only because of Turkey's
threat but also because the NATO mutual-defence clause is not yet applicable.

Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson told reporters in her country
that Stockholm figured legislative approval from NATO nations "could take a
year, and that estimation rests".

Stoltenberg said: "I count on allies to deliver a quick and swift and
smooth ratification process."

He emphasised that "many allies have already made clear commitments to
Finland and Sweden's security" during the interim period, and pointed out a
boosted NATO presence in their region.

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said security assurances had been made
by the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Poland and NATO
members in the Nordic and Baltic regions.

Several NATO members flagged expedited ratification for Sweden and Finland.

"Moments after Finland and Sweden's accession protocols were signed in
Brussels, I summoned my government and proposed to Estonian parliament to
convene tomorrow for accelerated ratification," Estonian Prime Minister Kaja
Kallas tweeted.

Germany's parliament was poised to ratify as early as the end of this week.
Sources in the ruling coalition said a first reading of the text was likely on
Wednesday, with the final two readings on Friday.

"This is the fastest accession process in NATO's history so far,"
Stoltenberg said.

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