Sweden ‘cannot rule out’ attack by Russia if it joins Nato

Cross-party paper finds few realistic alternatives to joining alliance ahead of Sunday’s decision

Sweden’s minister of defence Peter Hultqvist (5th left) and Sweden’s minister of foreign affairs Ann Linde (6th left) present a security policy analysis during a press conference in Stockholm. Photograph: TT News Agency/AFP

Sweden’s minister of defence Peter Hultqvist (5th left) and Sweden’s minister of foreign affairs Ann Linde (6th left) present a security policy analysis during a press conference in Stockholm. Photograph: TT News Agency/AFP

 

Sweden is likely to face Russian “provocation and retaliatory measures” and cannot rule out an armed attack should it apply to join Nato, according to its foreign minister Ann Linde.

A cross-party security policy paper presented on Friday morning in Stockholm, warns that Russia’s attack on Ukraine represents a “structural and long-term deterioration of Europe’s security environment” that has left neutral, non-aligned Sweden exposed.

Ahead of Sunday’s decision on alliance membership by the ruling Social Democrats, Ms Linde said that a joint application from Finland and Sweden would “be perceived negatively by Russia and lead to response measures”.

“The assessment is that we will not be exposed to a conventional military attack as a reaction to possible applications for Nato membership,” she said.

“On the other hand, it has been established that an armed attack on Sweden cannot be ruled out.”

In the long-term she said joining Nato would have a “conflict-dampening effect in Europe” while defence minister Peter Hultqvist said it would reduce the “current uncertainty” facing Sweden “in a security crisis or armed attack”.

New reality

The paper does not make an explicit call for Nato membership but frames Sweden as a country in a new reality, without any appealing security options.

Bilateral defence alliances are “not realistic” in Europe because of a “lack of political will among EU member states for collective defence”.

Though Sweden has partnered with Nato on key missions, including in Afghanistan, the paper notes that “Nato’s collective defence does not include a partner dimension”.

“Within the framework of current co-operation, there is no guarantee that Sweden would be helped if it were the target of a serious threat or attack,” the report concludes.

Nearly three months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, pressure from Finland and a swing in public opinion has pushed the ruling Social Democrats to reverse its long-held view – last expressed by prime minister Magdalena Andersson in March – that joining Nato would destabilise the region.

Two Swedish parties – the Left and the Greens – have maintained their opposition to alliance membership. The Left Party warns in the paper of “increased risks” that Sweden will become involved in conflicts pursued by Nato.

“Sweden’s security would thus be jeopardised more by membership of Nato than by continued national autonomy,” said Hakan Svenneling, a Left MP and committee member, suggesting the speed of the decision process in the shock over war was “downright irresponsible”.

Traditional role

The Green Party warned that Nato membership would impair Sweden’s ability to promote its traditional role as a non-aligned mediator, actively working for nuclear disarmament.

“Joining Nato would mean that Sweden agrees to use nuclear weapons as a threat, as part of a defence strategy,” said Green MP Elisabeth Falkhaven.

An application would have to be approved by all Nato countries. On Friday, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said it was not possible for Turkey to support Swedish and Finnish membership because, he said, the two countries were “home to many terrorist organisations”.

Turkey has in the past criticised Sweden and other western European countries for their handling of organisations deemed terrorist by Ankara, including Kurdish militant groups PKK and YPG and followers of US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Ms Linde said Sweden nevertheless hoped to get unanimous support in Nato if it applied and that the two Nordic countries had “very, very strong support” from important member states with whom Turkey had an interest in maintaining good relations. – Additional reporting: Reuters