MUNICH (AP) – Finland’s defence minister said on Saturday that country will join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) without waiting for Sweden if its Nordic neighbour’s accession is held up by the Turkish government.
Mikko Savola (AP, pic below) told the Associated Press on Saturday Finland would prefer that the two countries join the alliance together, but it wouldn’t hold up the process if Turkiye decides to approve Finland, but not Sweden, as it warned.
“No, no. Then we will join,” Savola said in an interview on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich.
Since they broke with decades of non-alignment in the wake of the situation in Ukraine last year, Finland and Sweden insisted they want to join NATO together. But Turkiye’s reluctance to accept Sweden unless it steps up pressure on Kurdish exile groups made it more likely the two will have to join the alliance at different speeds.
“Sweden is our closest partner,” Savola said. “Almost every week our defence forces are practising together and so on. It’s a very deep cooperation and we also trust fully each other. But it’s in Turkiye’s hands now.”
Speaking at separate panels in Munich, Finland’s top officials struck similar notes. Prime Minister Sanna Marin said Finland prefers to join NATO with Sweden but “cannot influence” how countries go about the ratification.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said Turkiye saying yes to Finland but no to Sweden would present a difficult situation.
“Our hands are in a way tied. We have applied for membership. Should we now say that ‘No, we cancel our application?’ No, that we can’t simply do,” Niinisto said.
NATO countries except, Turkiye and Hungary, have already given both countries the green light to join the alliance. Hungary said it would do so soon, but Turkiye said Sweden hasn’t done enough to meet Turkish national security concerns, causing a rift in NATO.
In recent weeks, NATO officials have played down the significance of the two nations joining simultaneously.
“The main is issue is not whether Finland and Sweden are joining at the same time. The main issue is that Finland and Sweden join as soon as possible, and it is of course a Turkish decision whether to ratify both protocols or only one protocol,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Munich on Friday.
Savola said he hopes Finland, which shares a 1,340-kilometre border with Russia, will become a member of the alliance before a NATO summit in July.