- The Washington Times - Monday, April 25, 2022

A joint application from Sweden and Finland to end their longstanding policy of neutrality and apply for NATO membership could be coming in a matter of weeks, according to press reports Monday from both countries.

The applications could provoke a sharp reaction from Russia, where President Vladimir Putin has justified his decision to invade Ukraine in part as a way to keep the Western military alliance from expanding further in the region.

But the war has spurred a marked shift in political opinion in Sweden and Finland in favor of NATO, which the two countries have long cooperated with but have never formally joined.

The joint application is expected to be agreed to when Finnish President Sauli Niinisto makes a previously scheduled state visit to Stockholm May 17-18.

The Finnish newspaper Iltalehti and Sweden‘s Expressen both reported Monday that the two countries are poised to make the joint bid sometime that week.

Finland, which shares an 830-mile border with Russia, has historically been leery of any security policies likely to upset the Kremlin. Finnish officials say they would much prefer to make a NATO bid jointly with Sweden.

A recent poll in Sweden showed for the first time that a majority of Swedes now favor NATO membership.

The Expressen reported that the Swedish government has reached out to U.S. and British officials about applying, and about security guarantees in the uncertain transition before Sweden is formally accepted.

Swedish Foreign Secretary Ann Linde said last week a major security policy review that was expected to be done by the end of May will now be presented on May 13.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said earlier this month that the application was a choice for Stockholm and Helsinki to make, but broadly hinted it would be welcomed.

“I expect that 30 allies will welcome them,” Mr. Stoltenberg told an April 5 news conference in Brussels.

• David R. Sands can be reached at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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