Swedish Defence Minister Claims Russia 'Threatens European Security' Amid Calls to Join NATO
New Year's speeches by Finland's president and prime minister, which both emphasised the opportunity to join NATO, fuelled the perennial NATO debate in both Finland and Sweden, which have been non-aligned for decades, yet been inching closer to the alliance through joint drills, military acquisitions and overseas missions.
Russia's actions “threaten Europe”, Sweden's defence minister has claimed at the national Nation and Defence conference.
Citing Russia's massing of troops within its own borders, which he called “military escalation with Ukraine”, and Moscow's recent set of proposals to NATO and the US that include non-expansion and the non-placement of materiel and troops in a designated area, Hultqvist claimed that Russia “challenges international law when it questions other countries' right to self-determination”.
“The entire European security system is being questioned and threatened by Russia's actions,” Hultqvist said, as quoted by national broadcaster SVT.
According to Hultqvist, Sweden will need to cooperate more with NATO, which, he ventured, alongside the EU was the Nordic country's most important security policy platform.
“Our strategy is to build security together with others. Today we are a respected partner that helps to deliver security. What we do is our own choice and is based on decisions in the Swedish Parliament. That's how it should remain. At that point, there is no room for compromise,” Hultqvist said.
Last week, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, also a member of Hultqvist's Social Democrat party, argued that she wanted to “deepen” the partnership between Sweden and NATO.
By contrast, the opposition Christian Democrats demanded that Sweden abandons its age-old non-alignment policy and joins the US-led military alliance as a member.
"We can not firmly handle our security ourselves in a situation where our borders and interests are threatened by a military attack”, Christian Democrat leader Ebba Busch and defence policy spokesman Mikael Oscarsson wrote in an opinion piece called “NATO membership is required to deter Russia”, in which the alliance was dubbed “the main guarantor of peace, security and military capability in our part of the world”. “A Swedish membership would mean that we can fully plan, synchronise and practice together with our neighbours. Only then can we create the ability required to deter a military attack,” the duo wrote further.
Moderates leader Ulf Kristersson, whose party has long been in favour of NATO membership, also said Russia's proposed security arrangement with NATO's non-expansion was “completely out of the question”, be it for former Soviet republics or nations like Finland and Sweden.
New Year's speeches by Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin, in which they emphasised the opportunity to join NATO is an inherent part of the freedom of choice, galvanised the perennial NATO debate in both Nordic countries, which have been non-aligned for decades.
In recent years, however, 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.
Russia's security proposals
In mid-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 presence in nations that joined post-1997 and stop advances 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. Likewise, both parties are required to refrain from drills over brigade level in an agreed-upon border zone, to regularly exchange information and to establish hot lines for emergency contacts.
Despite assurances of non-expansion granted to former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev during the collapse of the USSR, NATO has since grown in multiple waves of expansion to include a slew of former Warsaw Pact members and even some ex-Soviet republics, such as the Baltics (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia). Still, the Western media and political establishment continue to dismiss the non-expansion agreement as a “myth” and present Russia's steps to guarantee its security as “assertiveness” or even “aggression”.
21 December 2021, 06:21 GMT