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Hungary approves Sweden’s bid to join NATO after months of delays | World News

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Hungary’s parliament has voted to ratify Sweden’s bid to join NATO, clearing the way for the Nordic country to finally join the organisation almost two years after applying.

Overcoming the last obstacle for Stockholm on Monday following months of delays, 188 Hungarian politicians voted to back Sweden’s membership while six voted against.

Follow latest: Last hurdle to Sweden joining NATO removed

Sweden – which has not been at war since 1814 – has historically avoided military alliances for more than 200 years, and at the start of 2022 still ruled out joining NATO.

But after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Sweden changed course and filed a joint bid with Finland to enter the organisation.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson wrote on X after the vote: “Today is a historic day. The parliaments of all NATO member states have now voted in favour of Swedish accession to NATO.

Sweden stands ready to shoulder its responsibility for Euro-Atlantic security.”

And at a news conference later, he added: “Sweden is leaving 200 years of neutrality and military non-alignment behind. It’s a big step and something to take seriously…

“When it comes to Russia, the only thing we can expect is that they will not like that Sweden is becoming a NATO member.

“What they do in addition to that, we cannot know. We are prepared for all sorts of things.”

Image:
Ulf Kristersson met Hungary’s PM Viktor Orban in Budapest on Friday 23 February. Pic: Reuters

Sweden and Finland formally applied on 18 May 2022, but despite all other members approving their candidacy that summer, Hungary and Turkey objected.

All 31 NATO members must agree to invite a country for it to join the alliance. After this, each member must sign and ratify the Accession Protocol for a country to formally join.

Helsinki’s bid was approved by Budapest in March last year, with Finland officially becoming a NATO member the following month.

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Budapest didn’t given any clear reason for its refusal to back Sweden at first, and was believed to be following Turkey in demanding a series of conditions including a tougher stance on Kurdish militants.

Meanwhile, Hungary also accused Swedish politicians of telling “blatant lies” about the condition of Hungary’s democracy.

Stockholm attempted to negotiate with Budapest, but talks were set back by Kurdistan Workers’ Party demonstrations and Koran-burning protests in Sweden.

A ‘NATO lake’ now stands on Putin’s doorstep – and it’s his fault


Dominic Waghorn - Diplomatic editor

Dominic Waghorn

International affairs editor

@DominicWaghorn

The process of Swedish accession to NATO has been unseemly and laborious, but the final outcome will be all that counts in the minds of NATO leaders and commanders.

Vladimir Putin claimed he started this war to counter NATO’s expansion to the east. It has had the opposite effect. Two countries that had been proudly non-aligned have now joined the alliance.

Russia’s border with NATO has been doubled. Not exactly a strategic masterstroke by the man in the Kremlin.

But getting here has not been quick or pretty.

Almost two years ago, Sweden, along with Finland, overturned decades of neutrality and applied for NATO membership after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine out of fear for their eastern neighbour.

Turkey first blocked the move, seeking assurances about Sweden offering refuge to Kurdish separatists, but also looking for an arms embargo to be lifted that was imposed when Turkish forces invaded Syria.

Turkey overcame its objections at the end of last month after the US approved the sale of new F-16 fighter jets to help modernise the Turkish air force, though the Biden administration denies the two events are linked.

There then remained more horse-trading to persuade Hungary to do the same. Sweden ended up promising to sell four new Gripen warplanes to Hungary.

The wrangling and delays may have delayed the historic accession of the two Scandinavian countries, but that will be forgotten now as the Baltic Sea becomes what some observers have called a NATO lake and the alliance is bolstered by many more troops and materiel.

None of this would have happened if Vladimir Putin had not invaded Ukraine.

Orban – NATO pressure ‘did not help’

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed off on Sweden’s membership last month, leaving only Hungary to approve Stockholm’s bid.

While Viktor Orban said in parliament that expanding NATO would “strengthen Hungary’s security”, he hit out at allies pressuring Hungary to approve Sweden’s bid.

The Hungarian president said: “Several people tried to intervene from the outside in the settling of our disputes, but this did not help but rather hampered the issue.

“Hungary is a sovereign country, it does not tolerate being dictated by others, whether it be the content of its decisions or their timing.”

Viktor Orban smiles in Budapest after Hungary approved Sweden's NATO bid. Pic: Reuters
Image:
Mr Orban told Hungarian politicians that Sweden in NATO would ‘strengthen Hungary’s security’. Pic: Reuters

NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said that “Sweden’s membership will make us all stronger and safer” after the vote.

David Pressman, the US’s ambassador to Hungary, said in Budapest that ratifying Sweden was “a decision of strategic significance to the United States of America, to Hungary and to the trans-Atlantic alliance as a whole”.

“This has been a decision that has taken some time, and we look forward to the process concluding rapidly,” he added.



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