Finland and Sweden Joining NATO 'Very Much Welcome'—Stoltenberg

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said Finland and Sweden would be "welcome" to join the defense alliance.

"It's for them to decide of course" Stoltenberg told reporters at NATO's headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday, "but if they apply, I expect that 30 allies will welcome them."

The prospect of membership of the group has been gaining traction in Helsinki and Stockholm since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

A Scandinavian presence in the alliance would be seen as a way to offer mutual protection between the countries and NATO in light of Moscow's aggression.

Stoltenberg said that the alliance would likely find ways for Sweden and Finland to deal with the concerns they may have "about this interim period between having applied and until the last ratification (by allies) has taken place."

This referred to how Russia might retaliate against the countries joining the alliance.

Amid the backdrop of the Ukraine war, joining NATO will be an issue in Sweden's parliamentary elections in September.

Of the eight parties in the Swedish parliament, the Riksdag, four favor joining NATO. While the center-right Moderate Party is pledging to apply for membership if it becomes the biggest party and forms the next government, Euronews reported.

Finland, which shares a long border with Russia, looks closer to joining NATO despite Moscow's threat of consequences if it becomes a member.

Recent polling shows a spike in support for joining the alliance, with a survey in March by the Finnish Business and Policy Forum Eva think tank finding 60 percent of people backed the move in what was a massive jump from previous years.

Finland's National Coalition party, the government's main opposition, also supports NATO membership and its leader Petteri Orpo told the Financial Times that membership was needed to "guarantee our independence" in the face of "a powerful and aggressive neighbor."

Meanwhile, the country's prime minister Sanna Marin said a decision on membership would take place this spring, the FT reported.

The expansion of NATO was one of the arguments used by Russian President Vladimir Putin to justify his invasion of Ukraine and Moscow is not expected to take the prospect of more members lightly.

In March, Sergei Belyayev, the head of the Russian foreign ministry's European department, warned there would be "serious military and political consequences" if the Scandinavian countries tried to join.

It means that any membership plan would have to take a Russian response into account. Newsweek has contacted the Finnish and Swedish foreign ministries for comment.

NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg
NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on April 5, 2022. He has said he would welcome Sweden and Finland joining the alliance in light of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. FRANCOIS WALSCHAERTS/Getty Images