Member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have signed off on the accession protocols for Finland and Sweden, days after Turkey lifted its veto against the historic Nordic expansion.
The move on Tuesday paves the way for what is expected to be a lengthy ratification process, which must be unanimous among the alliance’s 30 members. The next step will be the approval of the two countries’ memberships in the legislative institutions of each member state.
Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO would mark one of the biggest shifts in European security in decades and further increase Russia’s strategic isolation in the wake of its invasion of neighbouring Ukraine in February.
NATO ambassadors and secretary general Jens Stoltenberg stood together for a photo in which the foreign ministers of Sweden and Finland held up their signed protocols, before breaking out into applause.
“Thank you for your support! Now the process of ratification by each of the allies begins,” Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde wrote on Twitter.
Erdogan: Turkish threat still valid
Despite the agreement in the military alliance at a summit last week in Madrid, parliamentary approval in member state Turkey could still pose problems for the Nordic duo’s final inclusion as members.
Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that Ankara could still block the process if the two countries fail to fully meet its demand to extradite “terrorism” suspects with links to outlawed Kurdish groups or the network of an exiled religious leader accused of orchestrating a failed 2016 coup in Turkey.
Sweden and Finland are also expected to lift their restrictions on selling weapons to Turkey.
Tuesday’s signing-off by the member states’ ambassadors and permanent representatives bring both nations deeper into NATO’s fold.
As close partners, they have already attended some meetings that involved issues that immediately affected them. As official invitees, they can attend all meetings of the ambassadors even if they do not yet have any voting rights.
Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned what he described as NATO’s “imperial ambitions”, accusing the alliance of seeking to assert its “supremacy” through the Ukraine conflict.
“With Sweden and Finland, we don’t have the problems that we have with Ukraine. They want to join NATO, go ahead,” Putin said.
“But they must understand there was no threat before, while now, if military contingents and infrastructure are deployed there, we will have to respond in kind and create the same threats for the territories from which threats towards us are created,” he said.