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Swedish, Finnish MPs back NATO membership

Swedish, Finnish MPs back NATO membership

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Nuke deployment, permanent NATO base opposed by Swedish lawmakers

STOCKHOLM: Lawmakers in Finland and Sweden on Monday debated their respective NATO bids, as the two neighbours prepare to submit applications this week as a deterrent against Russian aggression, report agencies.

Finland officially announced its intention to join NATO on Sunday as Sweden's ruling party said it backed membership, paving the way for a joint application.

The move is a dramatic turnaround from the two countries' military non-alignment policies, dating back more than 75 years for Finland and two centuries for Sweden.

However, Turkey surprised its NATO allies by saying it would not view applications by Finland and Sweden positively, with President Tayyip Erdogan saying "Scandinavian countries are guesthouses for terrorist organizations," reports Reuters.

In Helsinki, lawmakers held a marathon session with over 150 of 200 MPs asking to speak, following a NATO membership proposal presented on Sunday by President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin, reports AFP.

An overwhelming majority of Finland's 200 MPs -- at least 85 percent -- back the decision to join NATO, while Finnish public opinion is also strongly in favour.

"Our security environment has fundamentally changed," Marin told parliament.

"The only country that threatens European security, and is now openly waging a war of aggression, is Russia", she said.

According to recent polls, more than three-quarters of Finns want to join the alliance, almost triple the level seen before the war in Ukraine began on February 24.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday warned that NATO's expansion may trigger a response from Moscow.

The expansion poses "no direct threat for us... but the expansion of military infrastructure to these territories will certainly provoke our response," Putin said during a televised summit meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, a Moscow-led military alliance.

Finland, which shares a 1,300-kilometre (800-mile) border with Russia, has a long shared history with Russia.

It spent more than a century as part of the Russian empire until it gained independence in 1917. It was then invaded by the Soviet Union in 1939.

Finns put up a fierce fight during the bloody Winter War, but were ultimately forced to cede a huge stretch of their eastern Karelia province in a peace treaty with Moscow.

Meanwhile, a group of US senators, including Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, visited Helsinki on Monday for talks with President Niinisto.

                "The goal in the United States will be to approve (Finland's) admission as rapidly as possible", McConnell said after the meeting.

In Sweden, ruling Social Democrats dropped their 73-year opposition to joining NATO on Sunday and are hoping for a quick accession, abandoning decades of military non-alignment following Russia's Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and several of the other party leaders said Sweden did not want NATO-military bases or nuclear weapons on its territory, reports Reuters.

On Monday, PM Andersson consulted parliament on the issue by convening a debate, though lawmakers did not vote on the issue.

Andersson was to announce her government's official intention to apply at a press conference at 3:00 pm (1300 GMT).

On the other hand, Sweden will start diplomatic discussions with Turkey to try to overcome Ankara's objections to its plan to join NATO.

Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist said Monday Sweden was sending a delegation to Turkey for talks with officials.

The turnaround by her party is dramatic, having opposed NATO membership since the birth of the alliance, with Andersson herself expressing opposition as recently as March.

Swedish public support for NATO membership has also risen dramatically, albeit lower than in Finland at around 50 percent -- with about 20 percent against.

Andersson acknowledged that Sweden's decision to join NATO was closely tied to Finland's.

As the only country in the Baltic Sea region outside of NATO, Sweden would find itself "in a very vulnerable position", she told parliament.

She also stressed Sweden's "extensive military cooperation" with Finland.

If Sweden doesn't join, and "Finland as a NATO member focuses more on its cooperation with NATO countries, Sweden's defence capability decreases at a time when it instead needs to be strengthened."

"The best thing for our country's security is therefore for Sweden to apply for membership in NATO and to do it together with Finland," she said.

The Left Party, which is opposed to membership, said it was "deeply problematic" that Sweden did not put the question to the public in either an election or referendum.

All 30 NATO members must unanimously ratify any NATO membership applications.

The alliance has said the two countries would be welcomed "with open arms", but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed last-minute objections.

Turkey's objections, directed in particular at Stockholm, focus on what it considers to be the countries' leniency towards the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is on the EU's list of terrorist organisations.