Will Finland and Sweden join NATO? What move would mean for Russia - and what are other member countries

Turkey and Hungary are both still to ratify Finland and Sweden’s applications to Nato

Nato general secretary Jens Stoltenberg has said that Finland and Sweden becoming a member of the security alliance remains a “top priority”, with pressure on Turkey and Hungary to ratify the applications.

Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan initially refused to approve the application of both Finland and Sweden, accusing both countries of harbouring militants from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party. The countries have been locked in negotiations ever since.

Sweden has now said that some of the demands from Turkey are unreachable, but that the country is confident they have met the main requirements of the agreement to gain Erdoğan’s support. Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said: “Turkey both confirms that we have done what we said we would do, but they also say that they want things that we cannot or do not want to give them.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has accused the countries of sharing “outright lies” about his country’s democracy and rule of law. Debates within the Hungarian parliament about the membership have resumed.

Stoltenberg held a joint news conference with Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin on Tuesday 28 February. He said: “My message has been for a long time... that time has come to finalise the ratification process. The time is now to ratify in both Budapest and in Ankara.”

Russia has previously spoken about the “security concerns” that the expansion of Nato would cause for the country, and have reiterated their position. Here’s everything you need to know about Finland’s and Sweden’s prospective membership of Nato.

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin has pointed toward their intention to join NATO. (Credit: Getty Images)
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin has pointed toward their intention to join NATO. (Credit: Getty Images)
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin has pointed toward their intention to join NATO. (Credit: Getty Images)

Why do Finland and Sweden want to join Nato?

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin have both spoken out about their wish for their countries to join Nato. Polling in Finland and Sweden now shows that public opinion supports joining the group.

Ms Marin said that the situation in Ukraine had “changed everything” and that Finland should be “prepared for all kinds of actions from Russia”.

She said: “The difference between being a partner and a member is very clear, and will remain so. There is no other way to have security guarantees than under Nato’s deterrence and common defence as guaranteed by the alliance’s article five.”

Both countries are keen to join due to the threat of Russia and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. During a joint press conference between the two nations, Ms Andersson added: “There is a before and after 24 February.

“This is a very important time in history. The security landscape has completely changed. We have to analyse the situation to see what is best for Sweden’s security, for the Swedish people, in this new situation.”

When will Finland and Sweden be given membership to Nato?

On 16 May 2022, both Sweden and Finland gave their official confirmation that they would be submitting their application to the group. Andersson said: “There is a broad majority in Sweden’s parliament for Sweden to join Nato.

“This is the best thing for the security of Sweden and its people. We will inform Nato that we want to become a member of the alliance.”

Both nations confirmed that they were submitting applications simultaneously, with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö adding: “A protected Finland is being born as part of a stable, strong and responsible Nordic region. We gain security, and we also share it. It’s good to keep in mind that security isn’t a zero-sum game.”

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg has said that the journey from applicant to member for Finland and Sweden would be “smooth and swift”. The US is among those to have backed both nations joining the defensive alliance.

Finland and Sweden have both voiced fears over Russian retaliation during a “gray period” between applying and being granted membership. The application of any country to Nato must be approved by all 30 members of the group.

Countries often wait four months to one year until their membership is confirmed after first applying and are only granted Article 5 collective secuirty assurances once full membership is given. However, the US has said that it is “ready to provide various forms of security assurances” during this period of the application, according to Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde following a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, due to the looming threat of Russia on the Nordic bloc.

Turkey has previously sought to block the two countries joining the alliance, with president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accusing Finland and Sweden of an “open attitude towards terrorist organisations”, and criticised the countries for failing to extradite a suspect to Turkey. In June 2022, Turkey backed down and signalled that they would allow the memebrship to take place.

However, Nato is still waiting on both Turkey and Hungary to ratify the applications. Talks are set to resume between Turkey, Finland and Sweden in March, with Stolenberg confident that a deliberation by the Hungarian Parliament will end in approval.

What has Russia said about Finland and Sweden joining Nato?

Russia has continued to warn that any expansion of Nato would be seen by the Kremlin as hostile.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously said that the group “remains a tool geared towards confrontation” and warned it could destabilise European security.

It was previously critical of the alliance’s planned expansion eastwards into Ukraine, with Russia stating this as a major reason in troops being placed along the border and eventually invading the country.

The Kremlin may be specifically worried about Finland in particular joining Nato, as it shares a 830 mile long border with the country.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has said that the country is not worried about the inital expansion saying: “As to enlargement, Russia has no problem with these states - none. And so in this sense there is no immediate threat to Russia from an expansion to include these countries.”

However, he did give a veiled threat if Nato weapons were to be placed in Finland and Sweden after membership has been granted, saying that it “would certainly provoke our response”.

He added: “What that will be - we will see what threats are created for us.”

Who are the member states of Nato?

There are currently 30 members of the Nato defensive alliance, which was created in 1949.

Map of NATO members (graphic: Mark Hall)
Map of NATO members (graphic: Mark Hall)
Map of NATO members (graphic: Mark Hall)

This includes the 12 founding members of United States, United Kingdom, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway and Portugal. Greece, Turkey, Spain, Germany (then West Germany and East Germany) joined a few decades into the alliance’s formation.

Since 1997, there has been a major expansion of Nato to eastern Europe. Countries to join in the past 25 years includes:

  • Hungary
  • Czech Republic
  • Poland
  • Bulgaria
  • Estonia
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Romania
  • Slovenia
  • Albania
  • Croatia
  • Montenegro
  • North Macedonia

Georgia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Ukraine are currently classed as ‘aspiring members’ by Nato.