Sweden on May 16 officially announced that it will apply to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), quickly drawing support from a top U.S. lawmaker.
“The government has decided to inform NATO that Sweden wishes to become a member of the alliance,” Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson told reporters in Stockholm. “And very soon, Sweden’s NATO ambassador will inform NATO of this. After that, negotiations to join will begin.”
The decision was driven in part by Finland’s recent move to join NATO, Andersson said earlier on May 16.
“Should Sweden be the only country in the Baltic Sea region that was not a member of NATO, we would be in a very vulnerable position. We can’t rule out that Russia would then increase pressure on Sweden,” she said.
Meanwhile, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters in Sweden that he’s confident Congress will ratify the nation’s application by August. The Republican from Kentucky was visiting the region with a delegation of GOP senators in a show of support amid Russian aggression with its invasion of Ukraine.
Finnish leaders, with backing from lawmakers in the country, announced over the weekend that the country would officially seek NATO membership.
Under NATO rules, each member must agree before a new member joins.
At least one member opposes the bids from Finland and Sweden.
Turkish officials say the opposition is due to the countries allegedly supporting terrorist groups. Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, told reporters in Germany on May 15 that Finland and Sweden should also remove export restrictions against Turkey.
“I’m not saying this as a bargaining chip,” he said. “I’m saying it as a requirement of alliance. But the doubt and concern about these two countries is evident, especially with regard to Sweden.”
Many other members of the alliance have signaled support for the prospective new allies, including the United States.
The Biden administration said on May 13 that President Joe Biden supports Finland and Sweden joining the bloc.
McConnell said earlier there was “strong bipartisan support” for Finland’s application.
While Finland and Sweden have for decades both resisted joining NATO, the move has gained in public support since Russia’s invasion of its neighbor.
Russian officials have warned the European nations against attempting to join the alliance, saying there would be retaliation if NATO accepts the bids.
NATO rules state that an attack against one member is an attack against all members.
Ukraine isn’t a member of the alliance.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.