HELSINKI (AP) — Sweden will not find itself in a vulnerable security situation even if Finland joins NATO first, the Finnish president said Sunday, as both Nordic candidates negotiate bilateral military deals with the United States.
“It is possible that Finland will join NATO before Sweden,” Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said in an interview published on Sunday by Swedish public broadcaster SVT. “Should we have rejected Turkey’s ratification offer? Terribly difficult situation if we had said ‘no’ in Ankara”.
Niinistö referred to his Friday visit to Ankara, where Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his government would go ahead with ratifying Finland’s NATO application, paving the way for the country to join the military bloc, but will not ratify Sweden’s offer before disputes between Ankara and Stockholm are resolved.
Both Finland and Sweden applied to become NATO members 10 months ago in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, abandoning decades of non-alignment.
NATO requires the unanimous approval of its 30 existing members to expand, and Turkey and Hungary are the only countries that have not yet ratified the Nordic duo’s offers.
If Sweden’s NATO accession talks with Turkey drag on for a long time, many Swedish security policy experts agree that it would put Stockholm in a vulnerable military position in the Baltic Sea region.
Niinistö said Finland, Sweden and Denmark are currently in separate talks with the United States on security issues in an attempt to reach a bilateral military pact similar to the one Norway has previously concluded with Washington.
“I think it’s a big change, almost bigger than joining NATO,” Niinistö said of the ongoing talks with the United States when asked what will happen to Sweden’s security if talks to join NATO drag on. “It means a lot if we (the Nordic countries) all have a direct and quite similar (military) agreement with the United States.”
Since announcing their intention to join NATO in May 2022, Finland and Sweden have pledged to jointly join the Western military alliance at the same time.
Niinistö told SVT that the Nordic neighbors were determined to join NATO “hand in hand as long as it is in our hands, but the ratification of Finland’s NATO membership is in the hands of Turkey and Hungary.”