Finland to stick with Sweden in NATO bid, hopes for green light by July
By Essi Lehto
HELSINKI (Reuters) -Finland is sticking to its plan to join NATO at the same time as Nordic neighbour Sweden, and hopes to do so no later than July, Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto said on Monday.
Sweden and Finland applied last year to join NATO following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but Turkey raised objections.
The three countries signed an agreement in Madrid over a way forward, but last week, Turkey suspended talks after protests in Stockholm that included the burning of a Koran.
Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan signalled on Sunday that Ankara could agree to Finland joining NATO ahead of Sweden and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Monday made similar statements.
However, Haavisto said Finland will stick with Sweden, its closest military partner, during the application process.
“Our strong wish is still to join NATO together with Sweden,” Haavisto told a news conference in Helsinki.
“We have underlined to all our future NATO partners, including Hungary and Turkey, that Finnish and Swedish security go together,” he said.
A spokesperson for Sweden’s foreign ministry declined to comment.
Of NATO’s 30 members, only Turkey and Hungary are yet to ratify the Nordic countries’ membership applications.
Presidential and parliamentary elections will be held in Turkey in May and many analysts believe that it will be hard to make progress before that.
But Haavisto said he still hoped Finland and Sweden would become NATO members in the next few months.
“I still see the NATO summit in Vilnius in July as an important milestone when I hope that both counties will be accepted as NATO members at the latest,” Haavisto said.
Finland and Sweden had been hoping for a rapid accession process and were taken by surprise by Turkey’s objections.
Turkey wants Sweden, in particular, to take a clearer stance against what it sees as terrorists, mainly Kurdish militants and a group it blames for a 2016 coup attempt in Turkey.
Sweden has said it takes Turkey’s security concerns seriously and is implementing the three-way agreement signed in June last year, but Ankara says it is not doing enough.
That has led to speculation Finland – which shares a 1,300-km (810-mile) border with Russia – could proceed without Sweden.
But Haavisto said security assurances from the United States, Britain and other NATO members meant that Finland could be patient.
“We appreciate those security assurances very much even if we understand that it is not the same as the NATO Article 5, but it is very important for us,” he said.
Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, NATO’s founding document, commits all members to mutual defence, stating that an attack against one is an attack against all.
(Reporting by Essi Lehto in Helsinki, writing by Simon Johnson in Stockholm and Terje Solsvik in Oslo, editing by Christina Fincher)