Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday it was more important that Finland and Sweden's applications to join the alliance were ratified quickly than jointly, even as the Swedish Prime Minister said there were benefits to moving together.
The two countries applied to join Nato following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February last year and their membership bids have been ratified by all allies except Hungary and Turkey.
Turkey is widely seen as the main hold-up and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has indicated his country could ratify Finland's application without going ahead with Sweden's.
Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said on Tuesday he still hoped Finland and Sweden will join Nato simultaneously. “It would be of great benefit to Nato as well,” he said.
Western officials have said they would prefer both countries to join Nato together, partly because it would be easier to integrate them at the same time into Nato’s military structures.
But Mr Stoltenberg, speaking at a two-day meeting of Nato defence ministers at alliance headquarters in Brussels, suggested that was a secondary consideration.
“The main question is not whether Finland and Sweden are ratified together. The main question is that they are both ratified as full members as soon as possible,” he told reporters.
“I'm confident that both will be full members and I'm working hard to get both ratified as soon as possible.”
Mr Stoltenberg stressed Sweden and Finland had already come much closer to Nato in recent months. He also noted that all Nato members approved the two countries' invitations to join the alliance in July.
“This is the quickest accession process in Nato’s modern history,” Mr Stoltenberg said.
“Finland and Sweden are in a very different place now than before they applied. They have bilateral security assurances from many allies.”
Mr Erdogan, however, said earlier this month that Turkey looks positively on Finland's Nato bid but does not support Sweden's.
Ankara has demanded that both countries take a tougher line against the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which is considered a terrorist group by Turkey and the EU, and another group it blames for a 2016 coup attempt.
Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Finland’s Defence Minister Mikko Savola said that he was “not frustrated” by the delay.
“We are waiting [for] those two countries Hungary and Turkey, and hopefully they will make their decision soon,” he said.
Finnish parliamentary groups said on Friday they may ratify Nato's founding treaties in the coming weeks, a step that could lead to Helsinki proceeding with membership ahead of Sweden.
Mr Stoltenberg also said that defence ministers would discuss increasing targets for ammunition stockpiles and the protection of critical infrastructure.
He warned of new offensives and attacks from Russia as the war in Ukraine approaches its first anniversary. “This has become a grinding war of attrition,” he said.
“We see no signs that President [Vladimir] Putin is preparing for peace. What we see is the opposite — he is preparing for more war, for new offensives and new attacks,” he told reporters.
German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said as he arrived at the meeting that contracts have now been signed to produce new ammunition in Germany.
“That means we will now start our own production of Gepard ammunition at Rheinmetall without delay,” Mr Pistorius said.
“I am very happy that this succeeded because it better secures our independence and faster delivery.”
Germany has supplied 32 of the Gepard anti-aircraft guns since it first agreed to send them to Ukraine in late-April, and has pledged 37 in total.
he German military has not used them since 2012, so they came from stocks held in reserve by the defence industry.
But Germany so far has been unsuccessful after months of trying to persuade neutral Switzerland to approve exports to Ukraine of stockpiles in the Alpine country of Gepard ammunition, which was manufactured there by a subsidiary of German defence company Rheinmetall.
Ukraine has been increasingly vocal in its request for fighter jets from Nato allies, but Mr Stoltenberg has warned that while this will be discussed, the priority is to deliver on pledges already made, including tanks and ammunition.
Dutch Defence Minister Kajsa Ollongren said that she “completely” understood why Ukraine wanted fighter jets. “That has to be part of considerations that we are going through now,” she said.
Estonian Defence Minister Hanno Pevkur called on the alliance to deliver jets.
He added that his Ukrainian counterpart Oleksii Reznikov had promised him “many times” that they would not be used in Russian territory, which remains a red line for Ukraine’s western backers.
Some European countries have expressed fears of direct confrontation with Russia.
The EU's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, who also participated in the Nato meeting, was more evasive.
“Let's see,” he said, when asked about fighter jets.
“I am sure that among all of us we will continue providing strong military support to Ukraine.”