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Swedish PM says NATO accession ‘victory for freedom’

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson has hailed his country’s entry into NATO as a “victory for freedom,” as it turned the page on two centuries of non-alignment following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The accession “is a victory for freedom today. Sweden has made a free, democratic, sovereign and united choice to join NATO,” he said at a ceremony in Washington with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Sweden officially became the 32nd member of NATO after Mr Kristersson handed over the final documentation to the US government this afternoon, the last step in a drawn-out process to secure the backing of all members to join the military alliance.

“Good things come to those who wait,” Mr Blinken said as he received Sweden’s accession documents from Mr Kristersson.

“This is a historic moment for Sweden, for our alliance and for the transatlantic relationship,” Mr Blinken said.

Later today, Mr Kristersson will attend the annual State of the Union address by US President Joe Biden.

‘Historic day’ – NATO chief

Sweden’s blue and golden-yellow flag is expected to be hoisted on Monday at NATO’s Brussels headquarters.

“This is a historic day. Sweden will now take its rightful place at NATO’s table, with an equal say in shaping NATO policies and decisions,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.

“After over 200 years of non-alignment Sweden now enjoys the protection granted under Article 5, the ultimate guarantee of allies’ freedom and security,” he said.

Russia has vowed “countermeasures” over Sweden’s entry into NATO, especially if the alliance’s troops and assets deploy in the country.

Sweden and Finland, while both militarily intertwined with the US and members of the EU, have historically steered clear of officially joining NATO, formed in the Cold War to unite against the Soviet Union.

Turning page on non-alignment

Sweden has not been involved in a war, including World War II, since the Napoleonic conflicts of the early 19th century.

However, Finland and Sweden launched a joint bid after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022.

Finland successfully joined in April 2023.

Sweden’s candidacy stalled due to an assertive push by Turkey, which demanded that Stockholm, known for its liberal asylum policies, crack down on Kurdish militants who have campaigned against the Turkish government.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan later demanded action after protesters, enjoying Swedish laws on free speech, desecrated Islam’s holy book the Koran.

In a clear if unstated sweetener, the US dangled the prospect of F-16 warplanes to Turkey, which has faced the wrath of US sanctions over a major military purchase from Russia.

Read more: What does NATO entry mean for Sweden?

The Biden administration in January approved $23 billion (€21bn) in F-16 warplanes to Turkey swiftly after it ratified Sweden’s membership.

The US simultaneously pushed ahead with $8.6bn in more advanced F-35 jets for Greece, a fellow NATO member that has a historic rivalry and frequent tensions with Turkey.

Even with Turkey’s blessing, Sweden faced another obstacle as it needed approval of a last country – Hungary, whose nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orban, has often thumbed his nose at Western allies.

The Hungarian parliament ratified Sweden’s membership on 26 February.

But in one last hiccup, Hungary could not formally sign the accession document due to a brief absence in the mostly ceremonial post of president, after an Orban ally resigned in a scandal over pardoning a convicted child abuser’s accomplice.

A recent poll by Swedish broadcaster SR said that most Swedes believe the country made too many sacrifices to join NATO, although more than three-quarters believed NATO would strengthen the country’s security.

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