Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said he is “counting on the speedy ratification by the Turkish Parliament” of Sweden’s membership bid, as the focus of attention switches to Hungary.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent a bill approving Sweden’s membership to the Turkish Parliament on Monday.
The Nordic country’s inclusion in Nato, which has been pending for almost a year and a half, would realign the security dynamic in Europe following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with the alliance already having admitted Finland in a similar process.
Speaking at a press conference in Stockholm on Tuesday alongside Mr Stoltenberg, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said it was “gratifying” that Mr Erdogan had submitted the bill.
Sweden applied last year to join the defence alliance but Turkey and Hungary have yet to approve the bid.
Hungary’s Parliament has yet to schedule a vote on the Swedish accession.
It approved the Finnish bid swiftly last spring after Mr Erdogan said his country would forge ahead. Budapest has previously said it will not stand in Sweden’s way once Ankara accepts the bid.
Mr Stoltenberg said on Tuesday: “Sweden’s membership will make Nato stronger.
“Sweden is fully ready to join Nato. The time has come. And following the submission of the ratification documents, I now count on the speedy ratification by the Turkish Parliament.”
He added: “On Hungary, it has stated several times it will not be the last to ratify and since there are only two countries which have not yet ratified I think that demonstrates that Hungary will not delay this process.”
Mr Kristersson was also optimistic. “I have been assured on a couple of occasions by Hungary’s Prime Minister [Viktor Orban] that they won’t delay Sweden’s accession, and I believe they will stand by that,” he said.
Turkey’s Parliament is now expected to schedule a date to start debating Sweden’s membership bid in the foreign relations committee, which will eventually decide whether to send the accession protocol to the floor for a final vote.
Mr Erdogan’s ruling AK Party and its allies could potentially make it a priority amid the legislature’s busy schedule in approving next year’s budget.
Mr Stoltenberg sent a letter to all Nato member states last week, saying Sweden should become a member at the latest by the Nato foreign ministers’ meeting scheduled for November 28 and 29, according to a Swedish government representative.
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A Nato representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Jessika Roswall, Sweden’s Minister for EU Affairs, said she plans to speak to her Hungarian counterpart about Nato accession.
“We look forward to a quick decision by Hungary as well, and we want to become members as soon as possible,” she said in Luxembourg.
Her comments came after of Mr Orban’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin this month, which led Budapest’s Nato allies to raise security concerns.
Turkey has been one of the last hold-outs preventing Sweden’s membership along with Hungary, accusing Stockholm of failing to do enough to crack down on supporters of separatist Kurdish militants that Ankara regards as terrorists.
Adding the biggest Nordic nation to Nato means eight of the nine countries that border the Baltic Sea will be in the bloc – with just Russia outside.
Meanwhile, an investigation into damage to telecoms cables linking Estonia to Finland and Sweden under the Baltic Sea continues, said Mr Stoltenberg.
The Swedish government has previously said it was confirmed that the cable was damaged by “external force or tampering”. The damage reportedly occurred at a time when only two ships, Chinese and Russian container vessels, were in the area.
Mr Stoltenberg said the cause was still under investigation.
“We are sharing information. We haven’t any final conclusion on or assessment about who is behind and whether it was intentional or not.
“But Nato together with Finland, Estonia and Sweden are working to establish the facts. And before they are established I am not going into any details about exactly who or what may have caused that damage.”
Mr Kristersson said Sweden’s investigation, which has not yet concluded, determined it was “purposeful damage”.
“We will not be more precise than that, as of today at least," he said. "We will conclude the investigation physically and we will come back with our own conclusions.
“I think there is an important lesson to be learnt in terms of private infrastructure being nowadays extremely important also to national security, not least in cyber matters. So that’s a lesson learnt from us that we need to co-operate much closer between private operators. Private companies and national security agencies.”