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NATO Expansion Moves Ahead With Finland, Sweden Agreement

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(Bloomberg) -- NATO moved one step closer to bolstering its eastern front with Russia after Turkey dropped its opposition to Swedish and Finnish bids to join the military alliance.

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The deal reached on Tuesday night as leaders gathered in Madrid to discuss NATO’s future path all but ensures a major expansion on Russia’s doorstep. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on Wednesday that the alliance would invite the two Nordic countries to join while leaders are still in the Spanish capital.

Stoltenberg called the invitation “a historic decision,” with the alliance’s 30 members then due to ratify membership. “I expect that also to go rather quickly because allies are ready to make that ratification process happen as quickly as possible,” he said.

The move will radically change the defense dynamic of Europe, stabilizing security of the group’s Baltic members. The leaders will discuss issues including boosting NATO’s deterrence and defense, support for Ukraine, and sign off on long-term strategic guidelines.

Turkey agreed to support inviting the two Nordic countries into the military alliance, after receiving pledges from Finland and Sweden addressing its security concerns, including restrictions on Kurdish groups that Turkey considers terrorists, and avoiding arms embargoes.

“The talks were intense and tough, not in mood, but in terms of the subject matter, and after four hours, we reached an understanding,” Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said. “Turkey becoming an ally now could impact the considerations” on arms export permits on a case-by-case basis, he added.

Read More: NATO Expansion Could Finally Shore Up Alliance’s Weakest Flank

Membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for the two previously neutral countries would mark a significant shift in the European security landscape after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met earlier on Tuesday with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, Niinisto and Stoltenberg to hammer out the agreement.

The alliance is sending “a very clear message to President Putin that NATO’s door is open,” Stoltenberg said on Tuesday. “He wanted less NATO, now President Putin is getting more NATO, on his borders. So what he gets is the opposite of what he actually demanded.”

The membership process will still take many months, including ratification from NATO members’ parliaments, before Finland and Sweden become members and can benefit from the alliance’s article 5 collective defense commitments. Stoltenberg said he expected allies to sign the Nordic countries’ accession protocols “immediately” after the summit. All 30 alliance members need to sign off.

A senior US administration official said President Joe Biden’s goal this week was to help get the deal across the finish line. Biden told Erdogan Tuesday morning in a phone call that he should seize the moment and finalize negotiations for an agreement during the Madrid summit.

There were no US concessions to Turkey to get the deal completed and Turkey never tied long-standing requests like F-16 fighter jets to any agreement to allow Sweden and Finland to begin the process of joining the alliance, the official told reporters Tuesday evening after it was announced.

“It’s good for Sweden and Finland’s security but in equal measure it is good for NATO as we would contribute to the common security of the alliance,” Andersson said in a phone interview. “Sweden and Finland were able to explain our work against terrorism and how we have tightened legislation and will continue to strengthen it.”

The US has stressed that bringing Finland and Sweden into the fold could make the alliance more secure. Turkey’s block complicated the allies’ efforts to present a united front in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Sweden has tightened laws on terrorism in recent years, and more steps in that direction are under way. Niinisto has said Finland’s anti-terror legislation is on par with current NATO members following a revamp last year.

The Nordic nations have also highlighted constitutional protections for freedom of speech, meaning they could not prevent peaceful Kurdish demonstrations, and said any extraditions requested by Turkey must be ruled on by courts.

When it comes to lifting bans on arms exports, Andersson in June signaled that the Swedish authorities that grant arms-export approvals may take a different view on shipments to Turkey in light of the NATO membership bid.

Throughout the negotiations, Finland and Sweden insisted they meet all NATO’s entry criteria.

Finland, which has 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) of border with Russia and a history of wars against its eastern neighbor, was driven into NATO’s fold by Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, and pulled neighboring Sweden along.

The attack shifted popular opinion overnight, with policy makers rapidly kicking off the process to join.

Both nations’ militaries are compatible with NATO and include a large number of artillery and tanks. Finland has held onto a conscription-based system, meaning about 900,000 citizens in a country of 5.5 million have had military training, and it’s able to deploy 280,000 of them in war time. Sweden brought back military conscription from 2018.

How Russia Pushed Finland and Sweden Toward NATO: QuickTake

(Updates with Stoltenberg remarks from second paragraph)

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