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Finland and Sweden begin debate on joining NATO, are expected to apply in June

The leaders of Finland and Sweden met in Stockholm on Wednesday to discuss regional security after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and the end result is expected to be both countries applying to join NATO this summer. 

"I won't give any kind of timetable when we will make our decisions, but I think it will happen quite fast," Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said after the meeting. "Within weeks, not within months."

That would be a remarkable turnaround for both Marin and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson. Marin called NATO membership "very unlikely" in January, and Andersson said in early March that Sweden applying to "join NATO in the current situation" would "further destabilize this area of Europe and increase tensions." 

But Andersson's ruling Social Democrats changed their longstanding opposition to NATO membership this week, saying Monday that "when Russia invaded Ukraine, Sweden's security position changed fundamentally." And Sweden's Svenska Dagbladet newspaper reported Wednesday that Andersson has made up her mind and wants Sweden to join NATO this June. 

Finland's parliament began formal debate on joining NATO on Wednesday, and Marin said earlier she expects her government "will end the discussion before midsummer" on whether to join. Former Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, long an advocate for joining NATO, says he now believes it's "a foregone conclusion."

NATO foreign ministers discussed Sweden and Finland joining the alliance in Brussels last week, and "both NATO and U.S. officials stressed that it is up to the countries to decide whether they want to join — while signaling that they will be welcomed if they apply," The Washington Post reports. "Their potential accession would reshape European security and draw outrage from the Kremlin. Russian President Vladimir Putin used NATO expansion as a pretext to invade Ukraine. Now, his brutal war there may bring the military alliance ever closer to his door."

Sweden and Finland already have close ties to NATO and take part in joint military exercises, but all 30 NATO members would need to approve the Nordic membership bids, a process that could take months or even a year. That window would leave both countries in a fraught limbo next to an angry and aggressive Russia. Moscow has warned Finland and Sweden in recent months that joining NATO could have "military and political consequences" and require Russia to "rebalance the situation."