Finland and Sweden are heading into NATO ‘hand-in-hand,’ Finnish president says

"We proceed hand in hand in terms of the things that are in our own hands."

By Reuters - February 23, 2023
President of Finland Sauli Niinisto, Prime Minister of Sweden Ulf Kristersson and Prime Minister of Norway Jonas Gahr Støre, meet for a security summit between the three Nordic countries at Harpsund Mansion in Flen, Sweden, on February 22, 2023. Claudio Bresciani / TT News Agency via Reuters)

STOCKHOLM — Finland and Sweden are proceeding “hand-in-hand” towards NATO membership but that the decision to ratify the applications for the two Nordic countries lies with Turkey, Finnish president Sauli Niinisto said on Wednesday.

Sweden and Finland applied last year to join the trans-Atlantic defense pact after Russia invaded Ukraine, but Sweden faced unexpected objections from Turkey.

Ankara accuses Stockholm of harboring what Turkey considers members of terrorist groups, and has demanded their extradition as a step towards giving Sweden’s NATO membership its green light.

“We proceed hand in hand in terms of the things that are in our own hands,” Niinisto said, but added: “Ratification is not in our hands.”

Niinisto was speaking at a joint news conference with the Swedish and Norwegian prime ministers at the Swedish government’s summer retreat outside Stockholm.

Finland would still proceed with joining the alliance once approved, even if Sweden’s application was held up, Niinisto said.

The Finnish president also said he would sign a NATO membership application bill when it is agreed by Finnish lawmakers, with a vote scheduled for Feb. 28.

Once the parliaments of NATO’s 30 member states have ratified the application, Finland would become a member, even if Sweden’s accession was delayed.

“If Turkey and Hungary ratify Finland, we will be, as we have requested, members of NATO,” he said.

Reporting by Johan Ahlander and Simon Johnson.

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