22:19 GMT31 October 2020
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    Sweden's foreign minister has demanded a meeting with the Russian ambassador over comments by Russia's foreign ministry spokeswoman that if Sweden were to join NATO, Moscow would respond with "reciprocal steps" to counter the political and military consequences of such a move.

    At a press briefing on Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters that "a number of Swedish politicians and often visiting NATO representatives, as well as alleged security policy experts," are attempting to alter Swedish public opinion in favor of the alliance. She added that as far as Moscow is concerned, "Sweden joining NATO would have military-political and foreign policy implications that would require reciprocal steps from the Russian side."

    The comments appear to have caused a furor among Sweden's political establishment, with Radio Sweden reporting that Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom has now summoned Russian Ambassador Viktor Tatarintsev to "ask some questions," adding that the Russians "have some explaining to do."

    Wallstrom emphasized that Sweden is "a sovereign state which independently determines our security policy and makes its own choices. We do not believe anyone should threaten us." She added that Zakharova's comments would not affect Stockholm's stance on NATO.

    What specific threats the Swedish foreign minister saw in Zakharova's comments remains unclear. The spokeswoman had in fact emphasized at Thursday's briefing that the Russian side has "repeatedly stated that the choice of strategy for national defense and security is an internal and sovereign matter for each country. But we continue to consider the policy of non-participation in military blocs by Sweden to be an important factor ensuring stability in northern Europe."

    Ultimately, it seems that Zakharova publically stating the obvious –that Moscow's political and military strategy would have to change in response to further NATO expansion, has provoked an extremely disproportionate response on the part of Sweden.

    The country has seen support for NATO membership on the rise in recent months, fueled by a series of phantom submarine sightings and alleged airspace violations on Russia's part. While the ruling Social Democratic-Green coalition remains against membership in the military alliance, the center-right Alliance coalition, the second-largest grouping in the country's parliament, has been consolidating an openly pro-NATO position. Leaders from the Alliance's Center Party announced earlier this month that they would motion their colleagues to advocate for NATO membership during the next party conference, marking a shift toward NATO membership which could impact the country's course following general elections in 2018, if the prevailing mood does not cause the ruling Social Democratic-Green alliance to shift its own position before then.


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    NATO, diplomacy, diplomatic relations, spat, ambassador, summons, Swedish Foreign Ministry, Russian Foreign Ministry, Margot Wallstrom, Maria Zakharova, Viktor Tatarintsev, Russia, Sweden
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