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Sweden and Finland formally apply for NATO membership

The Nordic countries submitted their applications to join NATO in what seemed like a smooth process until Turkey threatened to vote against their memberships if its extradition demands are not met.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (CN) — Sweden and Finland have formally submitted their official applications to join NATO.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg received the applications from the two Nordic countries' NATO ambassadors during a small ceremony at the military alliance's headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday morning.

“I warmly welcome the requests by Finland and Sweden to join NATO,” Stoltenberg said in a press conference, adding “you are our closest partners and your membership in NATO will increase our shared security.”

By joining NATO, Sweden and Finland would redefine their nonalignment foreign and security policies, which historically gave the two nations leverage to balance their involvement between superpowers acting in Scandinavia, with the Cold War and World War ll being the latest examples.

“The applications you have made today are a historic step,” Stoltenberg said.

The move comes as no surprise. Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin already stated their support for joining NATO last week and the Finnish lawmakers echoed their view by voting for applying to join NATO on Tuesday. Sweden’s government announced its decision to apply for NATO membership after a formal debate about the issue in parliament on Monday.

Reactions from Kremlin suggests that Russia may bolster its military presence on NATO borders.

Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed he did not have a problem with Sweden and Finland potentially joining NATO on Monday, but said that “the expansion of military infrastructure over that territory will obviously call for our response."

“NATO should not make any illusions that Russia will ignore Sweden’s and Finland’s entrance into the alliance,” said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergej Rjabko, according to state news agency Tass.

Two Finnish diplomats were expelled from Russia on Tuesday.

The process of becoming a NATO member leaves Sweden and Finland in a vulnerable grey area where the two previously neutral countries have stated their loyalty to NATO while at same time not having guaranteed protection by the alliance, should they be attacked while their applications are pending.

Denmark, Iceland and Norway said they will assist Sweden and Finland “by all means necessary” during the NATO application process should the two Nordic countries be subjected to any form of aggression on their territory, as declared in a joint statement on Monday.

And last week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed declarations with Sweden and Finland promising support if the two northern European countries should come under military attack.

It could take a year or more before Sweden and Finland become full-fledged members of NATO. The process requires that all 30 members vouches for countries wishing to join the alliance – a process that until recently seemed rather smooth for Sweden and Finland.

The challenge now is to persuade Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that Sweden and Finland should not expect Turkey to vouch for their applications to join NATO. He made a similar statement on Monday, saying that Sweden and Finland are housing terrorist organizations.

Among different organizations labeled as terrorists groups in Tukey, Erdogan was referring to the Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK, which is not classified as a terrorist organization in Sweden and Norway.

Erdogan has demanded the countries hand over 33 people he believes have ties to Kurdish militants in Turkey, a request that Sweden and Finland rejected on Monday.

Sweden and Finland would not be allowed to join NATO should Turkey deny their application. But all members have the option to abstain from voting on potential new memberships, which would pave the way for new countries to join NATO.

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Niinistö will travel to Washington, D.C., on Thursday to meet with President Joe Biden for a talk about their NATO applications in the White House.

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