Sweden Talks NATO With Finland as Supreme Commander Slams Russian Security Proposals
While formally retaining their decades-old non-alignment, both Finland and Sweden have been inching closer toward NATO through joint drills and training activities, military acquisitions from the US and its partners, and participation in overseas missions. The countries' political life is also permeated with a strong pro-NATO sentiment.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson has held talks with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö about the countries' rights to join alliances amid Russia's security demands that include guarantees on NATO's non-expansion.
"The European security system is non-negotiable. In Sweden, it is we ourselves who decide on our foreign and security policy and who we choose to cooperate with", Andersson said in a statement. "International law must be respected and complied with. This includes each state's right to make its own security policy choices independently", the statement continued.
"In light of the developments in and around Ukraine and the deteriorating security situation in our immediate area, I have just spoken to Finnish President Niinistö and will hold talks with NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg. The government is also in dialogue with the US administration", Andersson added, as her Foreign Minister Ann Linde has landed in Washington to discuss Russia's security proposals.
In the coming three days, Linde will have a series of meetings in the American capital with, among others, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and President Joe Biden's Deputy National Security Adviser Jonathan Finer.
Meanwhile, the Russian security demands presented in a draft in late December, were slammed by Swedish Supreme Commander Micael Bydén. According to him, Russia's demands on the US and NATO would stop the Swedish military's exercises and cooperation with the outside world.
"The proposals for a new security arrangement would destroy the basis for our own security policy solution", Micael Bydén told the newspaper Dagens Nyheter. "It will be difficult to impossible in all other relationships, if these safety suggestions will be followed. Destroy is a strong word, but I can only speak with these strong words based on my mission. I will not be able to deliver my assignment if that goes through", Bydén told the newspaper.
Earlier in December, Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist dismissed Russia's security proposals as "unacceptable".
Why the Urgency?
New Year's speeches by Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin, in which they emphasised the opportunity to ally militarily and apply for NATO membership is an inherent part of the freedom of choice, galvanised the perennial NATO debate in both Nordic countries.
While formally non-aligned, both Finland and Sweden have been inching closer toward NATO through a plethora of joint drills and training activities, military acquisitions from the US and its partners, and participation in overseas missions.
During his visit to Helsinki in the autumn of 2021, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated that the alliance's doors remained open for Finland.
Inside both Finland and Sweden, the staunch political sentiment in favour of joining NATO is represented, among others, by members of the top brass and several parties, including the Finnish liberal-conservative National Coalition, currently ahead in the polls and the Swedish Moderates, currently billed as the largest opposition party.
Russian Security Proposals
On 17 December, Russia's Foreign Ministry published two draft agreements on mutual security guarantees with the US and NATO.
Among other things, NATO is asked to scale down its military activities in nations that joined after 1997 and stop advancing eastward to former Soviet republics. At the same time, both NATO and Russia are required to refrain from to deploying intermediate- and short-range missiles within striking distance of each other. Similarly, both parties are required to refrain from drills above the brigade level near an agreed-upon border zone, to regularly exchange information and to establish hot lines for emergency contacts.
Despite assurances of non-expansion that were provided to former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev during the demise of the USSR, NATO has since expanded in multiple waves to include swaths of the former Warsaw Pact and even some ex-Soviet republics, such as the Baltics (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia). Nevertheless, the Western media never ceases to frame Russia as "assertive" and "aggressive".