Sweden, Finland face backlash over Nato

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Sweden, Finland face backlash over Nato

The first signs of a backlash against a possible Swedish application to join Nato have emerged within the Social Democrats, at the beginning of a critical month in which Sweden and neighbouring Finland are expected to move quickly towards a decision.

Sweden is due to publish a security policy assessment report by May 13, two weeks earlier than planned, which will involve representatives of all parties in Sweden's parliament, the Riksdag.

The foreign ministry is expected to issue a position paper before a decision is taken by the coalition government on May 24. The social Democrats are trying to avoid a split over an issue that challenges nearly 200 years of Swedish neutrality with a national election in the autumn.

Local media in Sweden reported climate and environment minister Annika Strandh ll, who is also the chair of the women's wing of the Social Democrats, as saying that the faction had a long history and struggled in matters of peace, disarmament, detente and military freedom of alliance. The Finnish president, Sauli Niinist, said he will make his views known by May 12th, giving him time to react to what Vladimir Putin might say on Russia's Victory Day on May 9th. Moscow has rejected reports that Putin will declare war on 9 May, but it has threatened unspecified consequences if Nato accepts the two countries as members.

Finnish public opinion has changed after the Ukrainian invasion, with many voters not trusting Russia with whom Finland shares a 830 mile border.

Nearly two-thirds of the Finnish parliament are in favor of Nato membership, according to surveys of the Finnish parliament. The ruling Finnish Social Democrats are due to hold a debate on May 14th. The parliament is taking expert evidence on the plan, but opinion polls show steady support for membership in the wake of Putin's invasion of Ukraine. This increases to 80% if both the prime minister, Sanna Marin, and president return membership. President Niinist is scheduled to make a two-day visit to Sweden later this month.

The defence secretary of the UK, Ben Wallace, was in Finland on Wednesday in a show of solidarity as British troops took part in joint exercises with Finnish, US and Estonian troops.

Advocates of Nato membership support a joint application by both Finland and Sweden to be submitted to Nato ahead of its summit in Madrid on June 29 to give Nato time to respond with an invitation to join. Finland seems determined to join even if Sweden pulls back.

Wallace has been talking with the Finnish military about the type of military support that the UK, and other Nato powers, could provide in the transition period between application and acceptance of full protection under Nato's article 5.

It is not likely that Nato forces will be stationed permanently in Finland in the transition period, but joint exercises may intensify.

Finland hasn't experienced an increase in activity along its border with Russia, or disinformation attacks. The country has taken measures to minimize its dependence on Russian energy by the end of winter.