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SWEDEN AND UKRAINE

Sweden and Finland see ‘historic’ surge in support for Nato

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has upended the status quo in traditionally non-aligned Finland and Sweden, ushering in an "historic" surge in support for Nato, "exceptional" arms exports and defiance in the face of Russian demands.

Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Anderson arrives for a press conference in Stockholm after returning from a special meeting of the European Council.
Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Anderson arrives for a press conference in Stockholm after returning from a special meeting of the European Council. Photo: Fredrik Persson/TT

Stockholm and Helsinki have ruled out applying to join the Nato military alliance for the time being but the two countries have never been so close to taking the plunge, analysts say.

“Anything is possible at the moment and the signal from Nato countries is that a membership application can be processed in a very short time span,” said Zebulon Carlander, defence analyst with the Society and Defence organisation in Sweden.

“So I think it’s very much a political decision that rests in the capitals — Stockholm and Helsinki,” he told AFP.

The two countries are officially non-aligned, although they have been Nato partners since the mid-1990s and ended their neutral stance at the end of the Cold War.

Finland’s parliament is due on Tuesday afternoon to consider how to respond to a public petition calling for a referendum on Nato membership.

The citizen’s petition garnered the 50,000 signatures needed to refer the matter to the Eduskunta in less than a week.

It will be considered by lawmakers as part of a wider debate on the crisis in Ukraine.

And although Prime Minister Sanna Marin tweeted on Monday that the debate was not intended as a “wider conversation on Finland’s policy regarding military alignment or non-alignment”, the context of the discussion has suddenly changed.

For the first time, a majority (53 percent) of Finns are in favour of joining the Atlantic alliance, according to a poll published on Monday by public broadcaster Yle.

This is almost double the number a month ago, when a survey in the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper put support for NATO membership at just 28 percent.

“(This is) a completely historic and exceptional result,” Charly Salonius-Pasternak, senior research fellow at Finnish Institute of
International Affairs, told AFP.

Support for joining Nato is historically high in Sweden too — at 41 percent, according to a poll by public broadcaster SVT last Friday.

Russian warnings

In another radical change, the two countries have broken with tradition by exporting weapons to a country in active conflict.

In addition to sending Ukraine protective equipment, including helmets and body armour, Stockholm is to deliver 5,000 anti-tank weapons.

This is an “exceptional” move, stressed Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, unprecedented since the Winter War of 1939, when Sweden sent assistance to Finland to counter an invasion by none other than the Soviet Union.

“I think this is probably just the beginning of reassessments in Swedish defence security policy,” Carlander said.  “And we are also seeing a debate now on what further measures could be taken to strengthen the Swedish armed forces.”

In another “historic decision”, in the words of Sanna Marin, Finland on Monday also agreed to send weapons to Ukraine, including 2,500 assault rifles, ammunition and 1,500 single-use anti-tank weapons.

In parallel, the Swedish and Finnish army reserves are reporting an increase in applications.

Nato membership for Finland and/or Sweden — experts expect the two countries to act in concert — would infuriate the Kremlin at a time when tensions between Russia and the West are already explosive.

The eastward expansion of Nato is a red line for Moscow, which has felt betrayed by the West on this subject since the end of the Cold War.

Last Friday, Russia’s foreign ministry warned that if the Nordic countries were to join Nato it would “have serious military and political repercussions”.

Helsinki shrugged this off as a warning it had heard before, which did not amount to a threat of invasion.

Stockholm and Helsinki continue officially to rule out membership bids. Yet, crucially, they have in recent weeks taken steps to ensure that the door to the alliance — and its key Article 5 on collective defence — remains open to them.

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SWEDEN AND TURKEY

Sweden extradites first Turk since striking Nato deal

Sweden's government said on Thursday that it would hand over a Turkish citizen convicted of credit card fraud to Ankara, the first known extradition since Sweden struck a deal with Turkey promising to deal with extraditions "expeditiously and thoroughly".

Sweden extradites first Turk since striking Nato deal

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to block both Sweden and Finland from NATO membership unless they meet several demands, including the extradition of people Ankara considers “terrorists”.

Erdogan accuses the two countries of being havens for Kurdish militants, specifically highlighting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The man facing extradition was identified in Swedish court documents as Okan Kale, and was convicted in Turkey of credit card fraud in 2013 and 2016.

He sought asylum in Sweden in 2011 but his request was denied. He was granted refugee status in Italy in 2014. Kale’s name features on a list published in Turkish media of people that Ankara wants extradited from Sweden.

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The justice ministry would however not comment on whether the man was on a list drawn up by Turkey. It noted that Ankara had sought his extradition in 2021 — long before the Stockholm’s application to join the North Atlantic alliance in May.

“This is a regular, routine matter,” justice ministry spokeswoman Angelica Vallgren told AFP. “The extradition request was received last year.”

Kale has been held in Swedish custody since December 2021.

In an agreement signed by Sweden and Finland at a NATO summit in Madrid in late June, the two countries agreed to examine Turkish extradition requests “expeditiously and thoroughly”.

Erdogan said Sweden had made a “promise” to extradite “73 terrorists”.

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