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Government officials in Sweden on Friday largely threw their support behind Stockholm’s push to join NATO, but a 42-page security report found the move could prompt Russian aggression.
Foreign Minister Ann Linde warned that a Russian “armed attack on Sweden cannot be ruled out” if it joins the 30-member military alliance.
But she also pointed to the report’s findings that instability in Europe has changed Sweden’s security situation and there is a new threat of aggression from Moscow as it wages war in Ukraine and threatens to extend its campaign into neighboring nations.
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“Finnish and Swedish NATO membership would be perceived negatively by Russia and lead to response measures,” a Swedish news station reported the foreign minister as saying.
Linde said the assessment of Sweden’s security situation suggests that it is unlikely that Russia would hit the northern European nation with a “conventional military attack,” but warned Russia is capable of deploying other sophisticated methods of sabotage.
Sweden could become the target of a number of Russian attacks including cyber and hybrid attacks.
Moscow has already threatened to deploy nuclear and hypersonic missiles along its western border in the direction of Finland and Sweden, and it could additionally look to violate Swedish sea and airspace, the report said.
The U.S., U.K. and Germany have already pledged security assistance for Stockholm and Helsinki, but Linde warned these pledges do not carry the same weight of protection as the backing of the entire NATO alliance.
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“It should be emphasized that these are security insurances from certain NATO countries, not legally binding defense guarantees,” Linde said. “We can only get that as full members.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has long viewed NATO as a chief threat to Russia and claimed it was a contributing factor to his invasion of Ukraine.
The NATO charter declares that an attack on one member nation will trigger a response for the entire alliance under Article 5.
Ukraine, as it is not a member of NATO, did not receive a traditional military response from the alliance which said it would not send troops into the war-torn nation. Instead, NATO members have backed Ukraine by providing it billions of dollars worth of defensive and humanitarian aid.
Sweden pointed to this type of response as a chief security concern.
“The Russian invasion of Ukraine has clarified the need to strengthen the guarantee that our solidarity security policy would, in reality, be translated into concrete, military support if Sweden were to be attacked,” she said.
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Six out of eight parties in Sweden’s parliament have backed the push to join NATO, but Linde said she would like to see that support come unanimously.
“We agree that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the most extensive military aggression in Europe since World War II,” the foreign minister said. But she added that it was of “particular importance” that every political party now understand the threat that Russia poses to Sweden.