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US Senate panel approves Finland, Sweden’s bid to join NATO

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Jim Risch (R-Idaho)

The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee has approved a bill calling on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to quickly admit Finland and Sweden, in a move designed to further increase tensions with Russia. 

The Senate panel on Thursday easily passed the resolution supporting the two Nordic states’ entrance into the US-led military alliance and urged other NATO members to do the same.

“The committee’s passage of this resolution is a testament to the bipartisan support for Finland and Sweden joining NATO, and the urgency of strengthening the alliance amidst Russia’s unprovoked and brutal invasion of Ukraine,” panel ranking member Jim Risch (R-Idaho) said in a statement after the vote. 

“I’ve long said that Sweden’s and Finland’s strong political and military traditions make them a perfect fit for the alliance. I hope the Senate will follow the committee’s lead and move quickly to pass this resolution,” he added.

NATO has sought to strengthen its alliance against Russia since Moscow launched a military operation in Ukraine on February 24. 

The two Nordic countries accused Russian jets of violating Swedish and Finnish airspace.

NATO Deputy Secretary-General Camille Grand said on Tuesday the alliance does not guarantee Russia that it will not deploy nuclear weapons on the territories of Finland and Sweden.

Grand said it is up to the individual countries whether they want to host nuclear weapons, noting that the alliance will not set up some principle restrictions on the matter.

“Every country is free in the nuclear field to deploy or not to deploy such weapons. We are not talking about setting up some principle restrictions on the possible actions of the alliance,” the NATO official told Swiss broadcaster RTS.

Sweden and Finland have submitted official bids to join the US-led military alliance. The Nordic states say they made the decision after Russia attacked Ukraine.

Their bids, however, have so far been challenged by Turkey, which accuses them of supporting terrorist groups.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said Finland and Sweden's potential membership in NATO would probably make no difference as the pair have long participated in the military alliance's drills along with other putative neutral countries in the region.

"NATO takes their territory into account when planning military advances to the east. So in this sense, there is probably not much difference," Lavrov said last month. "Let's see how their territory is used in practice in the North Atlantic alliance."

The foreign minister made the remarks after President Vladimir Putin said the bid by Finland and Sweden to join NATO posed no direct threat to Russia but Moscow would respond if NATO bolsters military infrastructure in the two Nordic states.

Putin also said that the United States used NATO's possible eastward expansion in an "aggressive" way to aggravate an already difficult security situation in the world.

Finland shares a 1,300-km border with Russia.

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