Sweden and Finland are firmly on course to become NATO members this year, Sweden’s foreign minister said Wednesday, amid strained negotiations with Turkey over their admittance.
Asked by CNBC’s Silvia Amaro whether Sweden’s membership was really happening given tensions with Ankara, Tobias Billström said: “Of course it is.”
“We, after all, have 28 member states of the 30 who are already members of NATO who have already ratified the applications for Sweden and Finland. So yes, of course, this is just a matter of time.”
He added it was good news that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had this week announced the country was ready to resume negotiations after indefinitely suspending them in late January.
Turkey’s opposition to Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership centers around what, it says, is their harboring of militants from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
During a NATO meeting in Madrid in June 2022 the three countries signed an agreement outlining a path to a compromise, with Ankara calling for further anti-terrorism guarantees, particularly from Sweden.
Hungary is the other ratification holdout, though local media reported Tuesday that its Parliament could ratify NATO membership for Finland and Sweden early next month.
“We have worked to fulfil everything that we committed ourselves to do within the memorandum,” Billström told CNBC Wednesday. That included preparing to deliver new legislation to the Swedish Parliament in March, he said.
“Now it’s the time for the Turkish Parliament to start the ratification process. We believe that is the right and proper thing to do.”
He also said that Swedish membership at the NATO summit in July was the goal.
“There are two reasons for it. One is this is a moment in time when NATO can bring in new member states, and the second one is that there are military strategic points that need to be taken into consideration. Sweden and Finland have a joint interest in joining together because of the military situation here in the Baltic Sea region.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has “broken the world security order” by invading Ukraine, Billström added, and the fact that Sweden was willing to break its 200-year policy of military non-alignment showed “how serious the situation is.”
Latvian President Egils Levits told CNBC Tuesday it was in the interest of all NATO member states for its “informal allies,” Sweden and Finland, to become “real family member[s].”
“I think Turkey will also accept that in the interest of Turkey itself, also and for the whole NATO. I know that there are negotiations between Sweden and Turkey on that, and I am optimistic,” Levits told Steve Sedgwick in Warsaw.
On the Ukraine war, Levits commented: “This conflict can end when Russia will go back to their own internationally recognized borders. Without that, the conflict cannot end because [it] is very clear on the one side is an aggressor, on the one side is a victim.”
In a speech in Warsaw on Tuesday, U.S. President Joe Biden said the U.S. commitment to the NATO Alliance and Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which states that an attack on one member is an attack on all, was “rock solid.”
Biden will on Wednesday hold discussions in Poland’s Presidential Palace with leaders from the so-called Bucharest Nine, which includes NATO members Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia.
It follows Biden’s visit to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv on Monday, during which he pledged to continue military assistance and ramp up sanctions on Russian businesses and its elite.
Putin also delivered a highly-anticipated speech Tuesday in front of parliamentarians and military officials, which was broadcast on state TV.
During the nearly two-hour speech he claimed Ukraine and the West were responsible for the invasion he ordered nearly a year ago, and announced Russia would suspend its participation in the New START treaty with the U.S., which limits strategic nuclear arsenals.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the decision made the world a more dangerous place and urged Russia to reconsider, Reuters reported.