Hungary finally approves Sweden joining Nato after months of diplomatic tensions

By Isaac M February 27, 2024

Hungary’s parliament has finally ratified Sweden’s bid to join Nato, clearing the last hurdle for a historic step after months of diplomatic wrangling.

Sweden applied for membership alongside Finland in May 2022 in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. At the time, it amounted to an intention to abandon a principle of neutrality that had stood since 1812, enacted in the wake of a Russian takeover of some of its land.

Prime minister Ulf Kristersson, who visited Hungary last Friday to sign an arms deal, said that Sweden is ready to take responsibility in Nato.

“Today is a historic day. The parliaments of all Nato member states have now voted in favour of Swedish accession to Nato,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “Sweden stands ready to shoulder its responsibility for Euro-Atlantic security.”

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg immediately welcomed Hungary’s ratification. “Sweden’s membership will make us all stronger and safer,” he said on X.

Earlier on Monday, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban told parliament that Swedish-Hungarian defence cooperation and Sweden’s accession to Nato would strengthen Hungary’s security.

“Therefore, I ask my fellow lawmakers to approve the legislation on Sweden’s Nato accession in a vote today,” he said.

Sweden will become Nato’s 32nd member.

While Finland became a Nato member last April, Sweden was kept waiting as Turkey and Hungary, which both maintain relations with Russia, raised objections. Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hungary’s Mr Orban remain the only two leaders of Nato member states that have met with Putin since he announced a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022.

Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristersson, left, and Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban

(AP)

Turkey withheld ratification on Sweden’s membership demanding tougher action against militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party it said had made a home in Sweden.

Sweden then changed its laws and relaxed rules over arms sales to assuage Turkey. President Erdogan also linked ratification with US approval of sales of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, with Ankara now expecting the United States to work on securing the US Congress’s endorsement.

It was less obvious why Hungary had dithered over ratifying Sweden’s membership bid, with Budapest mostly venting its annoyance over Swedish criticism of the direction of democratic development under nationalist Mr Orban rather than any concrete demands.

But Turkey’s signature left Hungary as the final hold-out with Mr Orban facing pressure from Nato allies to fall in line.

The ratification will now be signed by the speaker of parliament and Hungary’s president within a few days, after which the remaining formalities, such as depositing accession documentation in Washington, are likely to be concluded swiftly.

While Sweden has ramped up cooperation with the alliance in recent decades, contributing to operations in places such as Afghanistan, its membership is set to simplify defence planning and cooperation on Nato’s northern flank.

Sweden also brings into the alliance resources such as cutting-edge submarines tailored to Baltic Sea conditions and a sizable fleet of domestically produced Gripen fighter jets. It is hiking military spending and should reach Nato’s threshold of two per cent of GDP this year.

David Cameron arrives at the Elysee Palace in Paris

(AFP via Getty Images)

In Paris on Monday, more than 20 leaders from across Europe met to send Russian president Vladimir Putin a message about their resolve to support Ukraine against Moscow’s invasion and “crush” the idea that Russia could win against Kyiv.

President Emmanuel Macron invited his European counterparts to the Elysee Palace for a working meeting announced at short notice to discuss how to ramp up ammunition supplies to Ukraine amid what his advisers say is an escalation in Russian aggression over the past few weeks.

“We want to send Putin a very clear message, that he won’t win in Ukraine,” a presidential adviser told reporters in a briefing. “Our goal is to crush this idea he wants us to believe that he would be somehow winning.”

Ammunition supplies have become a critical issue for Kyiv. The European Union, though, is falling short of its target of sending Ukraine a million rounds of artillery shells by March.

“We must be able to deliver more shells. The principle is that shells will be purchased where they are available,” said the adviser. “There is no dogmatic [French] position.”

On the ground, Ukraine has been fighting hard to keep Russian forces from advancing along areas of the 600-mile frontline, but soldiers on the battlefield say they are running short of ammunition and weaponry, particularly with fresh military aid from the US being held up by domestic political spats.

On Monday, Ukrainian troops pulled out of a village, Lastochkyne, in the east of the country. The soldiers fell back to nearby villages in an attempt to hold the line there, Dmytro Lykhovii, a spokesman for one of the Ukrainian troop groupings, said on national television.

Lastochkyne lies to the west of Avdiivka, a suburb of Donetsk city that the Kremlin’s forces captured earlier this month in an intense battle. In that case, too, outnumbered defenders chose to pull out troops and mount a defence elsewhere.

Although not in itself a major loss, abandoning Lastochkyne illustrates the battlefield challenges Ukraine is currently facing. The new phase of the war has brought some bleak developments for Ukraine.

AP and Reuters contributed to this report

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