Finland and Sweden moved one step closer to joining NATO Tuesday as the 30 members of the alliance signed off on an accession protocol, sending the matter to each of the member state parliaments for ratification.
The signing of the protocol at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels was made possible after Turkey lifted its opposition to Finland and Sweden joining the bloc at a summit in Madrid last week.
“This is truly a historic moment for Finland, for Sweden and for NATO,” Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said. “With 32 nations around the table, we will be even stronger.”
Finland, which shares a 840-mile border with Russia, and Sweden, which has a maritime border with Russia, will not initially be covered by Article 5 — which states that an attack against one member is an attack on all — but will be given access to intelligence.
The ratification process could take up to a year, and remains uncertain — as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned his government could still scuttle the bid if its demands for Stockholm and Helsinki to turn over alleged terror suspects are not met.
Ankara has insisted the two Nordic countries are harboring people linked to outlawed Kurdish groups or the network of US-based cleric Fethullah Gullen, whom Turkey claims to be behind a failed 2016 coup.
The foreign ministers of Finland and Sweden have disputed that extraditing the people Turkey considers terror suspects was part of a tentative agreement reached last week for Ankara to drop its objections.
“We will honor the memorandum fully. There is, of course, no lists or anything like that in the memorandum, but what we will do is to have better cooperation when it comes to terrorists,” Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said.
“Everything that was agreed in Madrid is stated in the document. There are no hidden documents behind that or any agreements behind that,” Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto concurred.
Even if Turkey is assuaged, any of the other 29 NATO countries could still exercise their veto and block the two would-be newcomers from becoming members.
Still, the likelihood of Sweden and Finland joining the alliance represents a diplomatic defeat for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has viewed the expansion of NATO as a security threat.
In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began Feb. 24, NATO has bolstered its forces by the thousands in eastern Europe to defend against additional military aggression by Putin.
“We will be even stronger and our people will be even safer as we face the biggest security crisis in decades,” Stoltenberg said.
With Post wires
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