Political leaders in Sweden and Finland have given signals that the two traditionally neutral Nordic countries might move closer to seeking NATO membership in the face of Russian aggression in the region.

The leader of Sweden’s second-biggest opposition party, the Sweden Democrats, told the daily Svenska Dagbladet in an interview published on April 9 that his party would favor membership should neighbor Finland apply to join NATO.

If the Sweden Democrats do change their stance from opposition to support of NATO membership, it would mean a swing to a parliamentary majority in favor of Sweden joining the alliance.

Svenska Dagbladet quoted Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Akesson as saying in an interview that if Finland applied, “my ambition is to go to the party council with a request that we change our mind.”

Swedish armored units train with a U.S. company as part of preparations for field exercises in Skovde in 2017, Sweden's largest joint field exercise with NATO in 20 years.
Swedish armored units train with a U.S. company as part of preparations for field exercises in Skovde in 2017, Sweden’s largest joint field exercise with NATO in 20 years.

“What’s changed now is that Finland is very clearly moving toward a NATO membership, and there are many indications this may happen in the near future. That, and the fact Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, is completely alone, has made me turn,” Akesson said.

After a recent poll showed a majority of Swedes for the first time in favor of joining NATO, the nationalist Sweden Democrats party said last month that it was reviewing its stance.

In Finland, the leadership council of the Center Party — a government coalition partner — said it would support moves by the government to pursue NATO membership based on the new security situation in the region.

The Center Party has traditionally sought nonalignment status in military matters. However, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, opinion polls have indicated that a majority of Center Party members support Finland joining the Western alliance.

Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine has prompted the two countries to consider potentially joining NATO, although Finland — with a 1,300-kilometer border with Russia — has shown more urgency on the matter.

Helsinki has said it would clarify its next steps by this spring — meaning mid-June — regarding a possible decision to seek membership.

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, who has not expressed an opinion, told Yle on April 9 that, since the security situation could worsen, a decision had to be made soon. Marin said her goal was that Finland and Sweden reach similar decisions at about the same time.