Biden administration officials on Tuesday celebrated Sweden’s ascension into NATO and promised that Ukraine will one day be on the same path.
Fourteen months after applying to the military alliance, Stockholm’s bid got the green light from Turkey on Monday after months of being blocked by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Sweden is now on track to become NATO’s 32nd member.
“It sends two messages. First of all, our alliance is stronger, it’s bigger with two new members — Finland and now Sweden, and it’s more united than ever,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on CBS. “In terms of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, it’s sending a very strong message to Putin that he’s not going to outlast us, he’s not going to outlast Ukraine, and the sooner he ends this war of aggression the better.”
As part of the agreement, Turkish, Swedish and NATO officials explained that Stockholm had changed laws, expanded counterterrorism cooperation against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and restarted arms exports to Turkey.
Ankara and Stockholm also agreed to create a “new bilateral Security Compact” and that Sweden will present a “roadmap as the basis of its continued fight against terrorism in all its forms,” according to a joint statement from the officials. As part of the deal, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also agreed to create a new post of “Special Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism” at NATO.
Sweden brings another strong and advanced military into the alliance, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said on MSNBC, adding that “they’re going to bring to the alliance in very, very short order a lot of significant capability to help bolster NATO’s eastern flank. It’s a big development.”
With Sweden’s NATO membership lined up, those at the NATO summit in Lithuania, which kicked off on Tuesday, had their minds on another country’s NATO aspirations: Ukraine.
Kyiv has long sought to join the alliance, and its calls have only increased since Russia invaded a wide swath of its territory in February 2022. But hopes of joining in the short-term have been repeatedly shot down by members, with President Joe Biden saying over the weekend that he doesn’t believe Ukraine’s “ready for membership in NATO.”
“I don’t think there is unanimity in NATO about whether or not to bring Ukraine into the NATO family now, at this moment, in the middle of a war,” Biden said during a CNN interview Sunday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hasn’t shied away from criticizing the West for its hesitation. On Tuesday, he blasted NATO negotiators for balking at offering Kyiv a concrete path to joining NATO in a draft communiqué being hammered out at the summit.
“It’s unprecedented and absurd when [a] time frame is not set neither for the invitation nor for Ukraine’s membership. While at the same time vague wording about ‘conditions’ is added even for inviting Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said.
Still, Biden has promised that Ukraine will one day join the bloc, a sentiment repeated by Blinken and Kirby on Tuesday.
“Ukraine has made good progress in that direction, and that’s going to be reflected at the summit,” Blinken said. “At the same time, the Ukrainians and others are the first to acknowledge that they have more work to do — continuing to reform their military, continuing to deepen democratic reforms.”
Right now, the focus for Biden “is making sure they have what they need to be successful on the battlefield,” Kirby said. “Eventually, yes, NATO will be in the forefront… but now is not the time for that.”