BRUSSELS — The head of NATO said on Tuesday it was more important that Finland and Sweden’s applications last year to join the alliance, seeking greater security after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, were ratified quickly than together.
The Nordic nations’ bids to join the 30-member alliance, which is arming Kyiv against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s army, has been ratified by all but Hungary and Turkey.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is particularly objecting to Sweden’s application because it harbors members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) whom Ankara calls terrorists.
Western officials have said they would prefer both countries to join NATO together, partly because it would be easier to integrate them at the same time into military structures.
But NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, meeting defense ministers in Brussels, suggested that was secondary.
“The main question is not whether Finland and Sweden are ratified together. The main question is that they are both ratified as full members as soon as possible,” he told reporters.
“I’m confident that both will be full members and I’m working hard to get both ratified as soon as possible.”
Two new members on its northeast flank would strengthen NATO’s clout at a pivotal moment when it is engaged in a showdown with Russia.
‘What both countries want’
Sweden and Finland have long been non-aligned but now want the protection of NATO’s collective defense clause.
Finland has a 1,300-kilometer (810-mile) border with Russia, and Sweden’s Gotland island lies 300 kilometers (186 miles) from the home of Russia’s Baltic Fleet in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.
Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson told a news conference in Stockholm that “obvious” reasons, such as already close defense cooperation between Sweden and Finland, made joining together preferable.
“It is what both countries want,” he said.
“But none of this changes the fact that Turkey makes Turkish decisions … the question rests with Turkey.”
During a visit to Stockholm on Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said she hoped the two prospective members could still join swiftly and “hand-in-hand” given Sweden’s responses to Turkey over its concerns.
Stoltenberg said Sweden and Finland had already come much closer to NATO in recent months and noted that all alliance members had approved the invitations to join.
Additional reporting by Niklas Pollard in Stockholm and Rachel More in Berlin.
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