Non-aligned no longer: Sweden embraces Nato

While Swedes believe it will make them safer Turkey’s grip over the alliance worries some

Nato and Sweden
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (R) and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson address a joint press conference in Stockholm
(Image credit: Jonathan Nackstrand/Getty Images)

So there it is, said Erik Helmerson in Dagens Nyheter (Stockholm): “One hundred and fifty years of Swedish neutrality has been replaced by something new.” In a surprising – and very welcome – development last week, Turkey finally dropped its opposition to Sweden’s accession to Nato, so paving the way for it to join the 31-member military alliance.

But the deal involved making some troubling concessions, said Tomas Ramberg, also in DN. Stockholm has agreed to resume arms exports to Turkey and to “distance itself” from Kurdish organisations. Before the new tilt to Turkey, deputy PM Ebba Busch, the Christian Democrats leader, had declared that in the name of freedom of expression “it should be possible to burn both the Bible and the Koran in all areas of Sweden”. Yet the government has now come out hard against Koran burnings, condemning them as “Islamophobic acts”. It is appalling, said Göran Greider in the same paper. Nato has effectively allowed a less democratic country, Turkey, to decide whether a more democratic country, Sweden, should be allowed to become a member. “What the hell kind of organisation is that?”

‘Nightmare for the Kremlin’

Yet one thing’s for sure, said Gianluca Di Feo in la Repubblica (Rome): this news is a “nightmare for the Kremlin”. It means almost the entire Baltic Sea will be surrounded by Nato countries. And it will massively bolster Nato’s military capabilities. Yes, Sweden’s army is relatively small, but it’s extraordinarily well equipped. It has 120 Leopard 2 tanks and 500 CV90 combat vehicles. Its air force includes nearly 100 state-of-the-art Gripen JAS 39 fighter jets. Its navy comes with “three Gotland submarines and seven frigates, five with a ‘stealth’ design”.

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All of which means Nato can now effectively deny Russia’s navy use of Baltic waters. That’s not all, said James Stavridis on Bloomberg (New York). Sweden and Finland’s accession (the latter joined in April) – gives Nato far more scope to operate freely in the Arctic, where melting ice is unlocking new shipping routes and oil and gas reserves. It should capitalise on this opportunity while Russia’s attentions lie elsewhere.

‘Erdogan to challenge Western dominance’

It’s hard to predict how Moscow will react to all this, said Robyn Dixon in The Washington Post. But in Russia right now there’s a strong sense of betrayal. Turkey’s President Erdogan had previously been Putin’s loyal ally, as keen to “challenge Western dominance” as the Russian. Yet in a bid to tackle Turkey’s economic crisis, Erdogan is now pivoting to a “closer, more cooperative relationship with Western leaders”: he even warmly welcomed Ukraine’s President Zelensky to Istanbul this month. It’s this apparent change of tack, as much as Turkey’s about-turn on Sweden’s Nato accession, that is causing anxiety in the Kremlin.

And it is making us a safer country, said Erik Helmerson. Henceforth when Putin threatens Sweden, “he no longer threatens a small nation with ten million inhabitants”, but the world’s “strongest military power”. Forgive me if I don’t “uncork the champagne”, said Anders Lindberg in Aftonbladet (Stockholm). Sweden was quite content with its neutral status before Putin’s war began. That it’s had to abandon that tradition is a tragic sign of the uncertain times we live in.

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