Sweden's Nato membership within reach, Nato chief says

It remains unclear if Sweden will join Nato at a coming summit in Lithuania

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at Nato headquarters in Brussels yesterday. AP Photo
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Sweden joining Nato is within reach, Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday after a meeting in Brussels to overcome Turkish objections to the country joining the alliance.

"We made good progress in the meeting today. It's absolutely possible to have a positive decision at the summit next week", he said, referring to the alliance's summit in Vilnius on July 11 and 12.

Earlier in the day, Mr Stoltenberg said that he would convene a meeting with Turkish and Swedish leaders at the alliance summit where Sweden's accession to Nato, still opposed by Turkey, will be discussed.

Allies hope that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will lift his opposition at the summit, but it is not clear if this will happen.

Ankara demanded a Swedish crackdown on Kurdish movements, such as the Kurdistan Workers' Party, PKK, which it says is a terrorist group.

Sweden says it has fulfilled the deal. On Thursday it jailed a Turkish citizen for "attempted terrorist financing" for the PKK under new legislation.

But Mr Erdogan has continued to criticise Stockholm, where a protest last week in which pages of the Quran were burnt further stoked his ire.

Mr Stoltenberg said that Turkey believed that "Sweden has made important steps forward but something remains or has to be done". He did not elaborate on what that was.

US President Joe Biden is expected to make a strong push for Sweden in the coming days.

Mr Biden told Sweden's prime minister at a meeting in Washington on Wednesday that he was "anxiously looking forward" to the country joining.

Sweden and its neighbour Finland dropped decades of military non-alignment and applied to join Nato in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Finland formally joined the bloc in April.

Hungary is also still holding out on Sweden's membership, which requires the unanimous approval of all 31 Nato members.

But Budapest has indicated it will give way if Turkey agrees.

Mr Stoltenberg was also questioned on reports that Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of Wagner Group PMC, was reportedly back in Russia after leaving to Belarus following a failed mutiny against Moscow.

"We've seen Mr Prigozhin moving a bit around and we won't go into more details than that," he answered.

Mr Stoltenberg added that Nato had noticed "some preparation for hosting large groups of Wagner soldiers in Belarus. So far we haven't seen so many of them going to Belarus."

Sweden's accession to the alliance will be one of the main topics to be discussed by Nato leaders in Vilnius, along with Ukraine's membership application, boosting ammunition stockpiles and reviewing the first defence plans in decades.

It will be the fourth Nato summit since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, with the first held virtually on February 25, 2022, just a day after the attack, followed by meetings in Brussels and in Madrid.

The extraordinary flurry of gatherings is a contrast to the previous rhythm of annual Nato summits and shows how the war on its doorstep has brought the alliance back into focus.

Security measures in Vilnius will be high, with three German Patriot air defence units deployed to protect the venue, a first for a Nato summit.

Additional fighter jets will patrol the skies of Lithuania, which is wedged between the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad and Belarus and has long been seen as a vulnerable spot on Nato's eastern flank.

Updated: July 06, 2023, 4:03 PM