HELSINKI (AP) — Sweden won't be in a vulnerable security situation even if Finland joins NATO first, the Finnish president said Sunday, as both Nordic membership candidates negotiate bilateral military pacts with the United States.
"It is possible that Finland joins NATO before Sweden,” Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said in interview published by the Swedish public broadcaster SVT on Sunday. “Should we have refused Turkey’s offer to ratify? That sounds a bit crazy. It would have been a terribly difficult situation if we had said ‘no’ to Ankara.”
Niinistö referred to his Friday visit to Ankara where Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that his government would move forward with ratifying Finland’s NATO application, paving the way for the country to join the military bloc, but wouldn't ratify Sweden's bid before disputes between Ankara and Stockholm are solved.
Both Finland and Sweden applied to become NATO members 10 months ago in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, abandoning decades of nonalignment.
NATO requires the unanimous approval of its 30 existing members to expand, and Turkey and Hungary are the only countries that haven't yet ratified the Nordic duo’s bids.
Should Sweden’s NATO membership talks with Turkey drag on for a long time, many Swedish security policy experts agree it would put Stockholm in a vulnerable military position in the Baltic Sea region.
Niinistö said that Finland, Sweden and Denmark are currently in separate talks with the United States on security matters in an attempt to reach a bilateral military pact similar to what Norway has concluded with Washington before.
“I think that is a big change, almost bigger than NATO membership,” Niinistö said of the ongoing talks with the U.S. when asked what happens to Sweden's security if talks to join NATO drag on. “It means a lot if we (Nordic countries) all have a direct and a quite similar (military) agreement with the United States.”
Since announcing their intention to join NATO in May 2022, Finland and Sweden pledged to enter the Western military alliance jointly at the same time.
Niinistö told SVT that the Nordic neighbors were determined to enter NATO “hand in hand as long as it is in our hands, but the ratification of Finnish NATO membership is in the hands of Turkey and Hungary.”