President Joe Biden has supported applications by Sweden and Finland to join Nato as Russia’s war in the heart of Europe challenges the continent’s security.
The US president rejected Turkey’s opposition, insisting the two countries “meet every Nato requirement and then some”.
Mr Biden walked to a White House Rose Garden appearance with his hands on the shoulders of Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden and President Sauli Niinisto of Finland in a meeting designed to emphasize US backing of their Nato candidacies.
The firm show of support was targeted not only at Russia, but also Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who earlier emphasised his opposition to the two countries joining the military alliance.
Mr Erdogan’s new comments added to uncertainty about whether he is determined to derail the expansion, which needs the unanimous support of all 30 Nato members, or whether he is using the threat to gain concessions from the two nations as well as the United States.
Mr Biden said the US and allies would “deter and confront any aggression while Finland and Sweden are in this accession process”.
Once-neutral Finland and Sweden are abandoning what in Sweden’s case has been 200 years of military non-alignment, driven to join Nato’s mutual defence pact in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and ongoing war there.
Acceptance of the countries would bring into the alliance two well-equipped, modern militaries on Russia’s doorstep. It would also serve as a powerful and lasting rebuke to Russian President Vladimir Putin about the consequences of his invasion.
Ms Andersson said: “Russia’s full-scale aggression against a sovereign and democratic neighbour… was a watershed moment for Sweden. And my government has come to the conclusion that the security of the Swedish people will be best protected within the Nato alliance.”
Not only are Sweden and Finland fully qualified but “having two new Nato members in the high north will enhance the security of our alliance”, Mr Biden.
Even as the three leaders were gathering, however, Nr Erdogan was hardening his public stand against the expansion effort.
He accused the two countries — as he often does the US and Western nations in general — of being too receptive to Turkish Kurdish groups that he calls terrorists.
Mr Erdogan’s abrupt objections on that point have brought uncertainty to an application process that had been expected to win quick approval. Turkey’s threatened veto is crucial because Nato acceptance of new members requires unanimity.
“We have told our relevant friends we would say ‘no’ to Finland and Sweden’s entry into Nato, and we will continue on our path like this,” Mr Erdogan said in a video aired in Turkey.
Mr Biden said he began the private discussions that led to the two Scandinavian leaders’ “momentous” decision to join Nato back in December, even as Russian forces were gathering on the border with Ukraine, ahead of Mr Putin’s February 24 invasion.
The United States and its allies say that the invasion, while failing in Russia’s aim of unseating Ukraine’s Western-friendly government, is only strengthening the West’s security alliances.
Mr Niinisto credited Mr Biden’s months of encouragement with playing a crucial role in the decision by his country and Sweden to team up with Nato to face any future threat from Russia or others.