Swedish foreign minister Ann Linde says Finland will almost certainly apply for membership in NATO, raising the expectation that both countries will join the military alliance despite Moscow’s warnings.
"We know more or less that they (Finland) will apply for NATO membership. And that changes the whole balance,” the top Swedish diplomat was quoted as saying by public broadcaster SVT on Sunday.
“If one of our countries joins, we know that tensions would increase,” she hastened to add.
Asked whether she thinks Finland will join NATO, Linde retorted "I think you can say that quite surely."
Russia’s military operation in Ukraine has sparked security concerns in both Sweden and neighboring Finland, leading to their intense lobbying for membership in the military alliance.
The two states, which are officially nonaligned militarily, are expected to announce their decisions to apply for NATO membership by May 16.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said that both Nordic states are welcome to join the US-led alliance, despite Russia clearly warning against it.
Swedish prime minister Magdalena Andersson announced last month that her country would apply for NATO membership.
Last week, Finland’s foreign minister Pekka Haavisto said he hopes the neighboring countries will make similar decisions at the same time.
The prospect for a “joint leap” by Sweden and Finland into NATO will be discussed when the prime ministers of both countries, Magdalena Andersson and Sanna Marin, meet at Schloss Meseberg castle, near Berlin, to discuss security issues with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday.
“It is Finland’s wish that Finland and Sweden can adhere to the same timetable in respect of applying for membership to NATO,” Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto said at a press briefing following a meeting with Linde in Helsinki on April 29.
Russia last month warned that it will deploy nuclear weapons in the Baltic Sea region if the two European states join the 30-member military alliance.
Former Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, who is currently the deputy head of Russia's Security Council, warned that NATO expansion would lead Moscow to strengthen air, land, and naval forces to “balance” military capability in the region.
Medvedev sounded the warning last month, saying if Finland, which shares a 1,300-kilometer border with Russia, and Sweden joined the US-led military alliance, it would more than double Russia’s land border with NATO member states.
“If Sweden and Finland join NATO, the length of the land borders of the alliance with the Russian Federation will more than double. Naturally, these boundaries will have to be strengthened,” he wrote on Telegram.
“There can be no more talk of any nuclear-free status for the Baltic — the balance must be restored,” Medvedev said.
His comments came after Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told British media that if the two Nordic countries join NATO, Russia would be forced to “rebalance the situation.”
“We’ll have to make our western flank more sophisticated in terms of ensuring our security,” he said.