LONDON — In what has been called a “historic” moment, NATO’s 30 members have signed off on the accession protocols for Finland and Sweden.
The applications for the Nordic countries will now be sent to the parliaments of each member state for approval. It could take up to a year before Finland’s and Sweden’s membership bids are ratified.
The two countries’ potential membership in the powerful military alliance represents a major blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Part of the Kremlin’s stated rationale for its invasion of neighboring Ukraine was to halt NATO’s eastward expansion, but that expansion is exactly what it may get.
Finland shares a long border with Russia, and the two Nordic countries — once famously neutral — have advanced militaries and strategic ports throughout the Baltic Sea.
“This is truly an historic moment. For Finland, for Sweden, for NATO, and for our shared security,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday.
The protocol means the two applicants have greater access to NATO’s intelligence and can participate in assemblies. But neither country will be protected by the alliance’s defense clause until it obtains full membership, which mandates that an attack on one country is viewed as aggression against the full alliance.
“With 32 nations around the table, we will be even stronger and our people will be even safer as we face the biggest security crisis in decades,” Stoltenberg said in a joint statement with Finland’s and Sweden’s foreign ministers.
Tuesday’s breakthrough followed a deal made at last week’s NATO summit in Madrid. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dropped his veto threat, stating that he had received “full cooperation” from both Sweden and Finland against the Kurdish militant group PKK and its allies.
The two countries, in turn, agreed to drop their restrictions on selling munitions to Turkey, and they offered to help in extraditing suspected militants back. This came after more than three hours of deliberation during the Madrid summit.
Both Sweden and Finland applied for NATO membership in the wake of Putin’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine. Russia issued vague threats of retaliation in response to their applications.
Last Monday, Stoltenberg said the alliance would put 300,000 soldiers on high alert in response to Russia’s war. It would be “the biggest overhaul of our collective defense and deterrence since the Cold War,” he said.