British foreign minister James Cleverly has said that the UK will continue to push for a quick conclusion to Sweden’s proposed accession to NATO.
Sweden applied to join NATO in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year but ratification of its membership has been held up by Turkey and Hungary.
“We will continue to push for the speedy completion of your accession process,” Cleverly said at a press conference, standing alongside his Swedish counterpart Tobias Billstrom during his visit to Sweden.
Cleverly had insisted Sweden joining the Alliance “must happen as soon as possible” to “make us all safer” ahead of travelling to Gotland, a strategically important island just 200 miles north of Kaliningrad – home to Russia’s Baltic Fleet.
The Foreign Secretary also met Swedish defence minister Pal Jonson to discuss strengthening cooperation including through joint exercises and training between the countries’ armed forces.
Sweden and Finland had applied to join NATO together following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year. Finland became the 31st member of the military alliance in April after the Turkish parliament ratified its request.
NATO wants to bring Sweden also into the fold by the time the leaders of member nations meet for a summit in Lithuania in July. However, continued objections from Turkey have slowed down the process. Turkey’s government claims that Sweden has been lenient towards groups it says pose a security threat, including militant Kurdish groups and others linked to a 2016 coup attempt.
Asked whether Britain had spoken to Turkey about its position, Cleverly said he has spoken with his counterpart there and made Britain’s position clear saying “It’s in Turkey’s interest that Sweden become a member of the alliance and does so quickly”.
As far as NATO is concerned, I think there are three main points to be made: the first is that Sweden’s accession to NATO, which I think will happen at some point despite Turkey’s reluctance, will be yet another blow to Putin’s prestige and his desire to prevent further NATO expansion. His policy has had in fact the opposite effect and made NATO stronger.
The second is that Sweden has significant and modern armed forces; a navy of nearly 400 ships of all sorts and sizes, including 4 submarines and a number of minesweepers and patrol boats; an army equipped with 120 Leopard 2A5 tanks, 2,100 armoured fighting vehicles, and 170 assorted modern artillery pieces and mortars; and an air force of 200 plus aircraft. This will be an important addition to NATO’s strength.
And the third, and perhaps the most important, is that when Sweden finally joins NATO it will mean that the Baltic Sea will be totally surrounded by Alliance member countries, with the exception of the limited Russian access at St Petersburg and Kaliningrad. In effect it will turn the Baltic Sea into a NATO lake.
Lt Col Stuart Crawford is a defence analyst and former army officer. Sign up for his podcasts and newsletters at www.DefenceReview.uk
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