Sweden officially joins NATO, becoming alliance’s 32nd member

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Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson hands over accession documents to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, March 7, 2024.



CNN

Sweden officially joined NATO on Thursday after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted the country to reconsider its defense policy and abandon its long-held position of neutrality.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson formally handed over the accession documents to the US State Department in Washington DC, the final step of a months-long process to gain approval from all members for his country to become the alliance’s 32nd member.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken received the documents, which he said were the product of “nearly two years of tireless diplomacy” by NATO members. The documents are stored in a safe at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which serves as a treaty depot for NATO.

Sweden’s accession to NATO was hardly conceivable just over two years ago. The country remained neutral in both world wars, but when Russian troops began marching on Kiev in February 2022, Sweden – and its Nordic neighbor Finland – became alert to the threat Moscow could pose to nearby countries outside the alliance.

Finland – which shares an 800-mile border with Russia – officially joined in April 2023, more than doubling NATO’s border with Russia, a blow to President Vladimir Putin, who has tried to halt the alliance’s growth call.

“If you take a step back and think about where we were three years ago, none of this was meant to be — and in fact, none of this was foreseeable,” Blinken said.

Blinken pointed to Sweden’s “200-year-old policy of non-alignment” – dating back to the Napoleonic Wars – and the Swedish people’s lack of willingness to join the alliance before the Russian invasion.

“Then everything changed,” he said.

US President Joe Biden heralded Sweden’s accession, which he said made the bloc “more united, determined and dynamic than ever” and able to “stand for freedom and democracy for generations to come.”

The move came just hours before Biden was due to deliver his State of the Union address, during which he is expected to draw sharp contrasts between his stance on issues of democracy and key alliances such as NATO and that of his predecessor Donald Trump. Kristersson will be a guest of the First Lady at the address.

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British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also welcomed the news, calling it a “historic moment.”

“Like Finland, Sweden shares our values ​​and principles and they share our unwavering commitment to international security in the face of Russian threats and their barbaric war in Ukraine,” Sunak said. “The membership of Sweden and Finland will make NATO stronger and the entire Euro-Atlantic more secure.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sweden’s accession was a victory for everyone, calling the country “a strong ally and a country that can be trusted.”

“Ukraine has always supported Sweden in its pursuit of NATO membership, and I thank Sweden for its support of our country – the day will come when Sweden can also congratulate Ukraine on joining the alliance. Together we are always stronger,” he said.

Kristersson thanked his allies for welcoming Sweden into the bloc.

“We will strive for unity, solidarity and burden-sharing, and will fully adhere to the values ​​of the Washington Treaty: freedom, democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. Stronger together,” he said in a statement.

While Finland became NATO’s 31st member without major obstacles, Sweden’s bid to join the bloc was stymied for months by Turkey and Hungary, which maintain friendly relations with Moscow and have delayed ratification of Stockholm’s accession.

Turkey’s parliament voted to approve the Swedish bid in January after months of tensions between the two nations, mainly fueled by a wave of Koran-burning protests in Sweden that angered Turkish parliamentarians.

But Hungary kept Sweden waiting even longer, with Prime Minister Viktor Orban repeatedly refusing to give the green light to its bid. The Hungarian parliament finally approved Sweden’s accession last month.

The next annual NATO summit will be held in Washington DC in July and will celebrate the alliance’s 75th anniversary.

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