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Russia's invasion of Ukraine has prompted a major shift in public opinion in Finland and Sweden, with support for joining NATO recently surging in both countries. Meanwhile, Russian President Putin said the expansion of NATO infrastructure would trigger a response. Karin Olofsdotter, Swedish ambassador to the U.S., and Mikko Hautala, Finnish ambassador to the U.S., join Judy Woodruff to discuss.
As we have reported, Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson today announced that her country would join NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, ending more than 200 years of military nonalignment.
The announcement follows a similar one this weekend from neighboring Finland.
Nick Schifrin has more.
It is a historic, generational shift by the governments of Sweden and Finland and their populations.
After the Cold War ended, Sweden and Finland joined the European Union, but refused to join NATO, pursuing instead of policy of armed neutrality. Finland shares an 830-mile border with Russia. And, as recently as February, the government said it had no plans to join NATO.
But the invasion of Ukraine has changed everything. In 2017, 22 percent of Finns and 32 percent of Swedes supported joining NATO. Today, those numbers are 76 percent in Finland and 53 percent in Sweden.
For more on this, we turn to Sweden's ambassador to the United States, Karin Olofsdotter, and Finland's ambassador to the United States, Mikko Hautala.
Welcome, both of you, to the "NewsHour."
Let me start with you, Ambassador Olofsdotter.
Why are you applying for NATO today?
Karin Olofsdotter, Swedish Ambassador to the United States: Well, we have seen a dramatic shift in our region.
When Russia attacked the Ukraine in February, there was a dramatic shift. A neighboring country of ours attacking an unprovoked country, democracy, another European state, that really changed everything for us.
Ambassador Hautala, you train and share intelligence with NATO. Your membership in the E.U. includes a treaty to assist any member country that is attacked. So why is that no longer good enough?
Mikko Hautala, Finnish Ambassador to the United States: I think we have now a clear plan to execute our longstanding foreign policy position, which is that we have already said for almost two decades that, in case the situation changes, we might apply for NATO membership.
That's what we are doing right now. Of course, we also think that the E.U. common solidarity between the member states is — continues to be important and relevant. But we think that NATO, as a defensive alliance, is definitely needed in this kind of a situation, with its own military capabilities.
Ambassador Olofsdotter, you need all 30 countries in NATO to agree.
And, today, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Sweden a quote incubator — incubation center for the PKK, the Kurdish group that's deemed a terrorist group by the E.U. and the U.S. Will you extradite the Kurds living in Sweden that Turkey is currently asking for?
That is something we have not discussed.
We are seeking contact with Turkey to discuss all the issues we have in front of us. And we look very much forward to cooperating with Turkey as an ally in NATO. So, we are trying to have discussions with the Turks and look forward to that.
Ambassador Hautala, I know that Finland has said it was blindsided by Turkey's announcement. Do you believe Turkey has a price that NATO can pay?
Well, that remains to be seen.
We have received some inconsistent messages from Turkey, first from President Erdogan saying that they would support the application. Now we are hearing something else. I think we have to find out, also together with Sweden, what we are talking about and what does that mean.
But I think we have a really good relationship with Turkey. And I believe that we can sort of have a good discussion those items and then find a solution.
Ambassador Olofsdotter, Vladimir Putin made comments today that some people found interesting. He changed his rhetoric and said he had — quote — "no problems" with Sweden or Finland joining NATO, but that creating new NATO infrastructure would — quote — "trigger a response."
So do you believe that's a real threat? And do you have any plans to expand NATO infrastructure in Sweden?
Well, of course, we are joining…
So far — sorry.
No, I mean, we are joining NATO as a full member, of course, with everything that that implies. So, that is discussions that we will have with NATO as we go forward in our accession process.
Of course, we are happy that the Russians don't see it as a threat that we are joining NATO. We have heard differently before. And given the unpredictability and what we have seen in the Ukraine, we, of course, have to take every precaution we can to strengthen our own security. So we have decided to go up to 2 percent of our — on our defense budget.
We are ramping up our missile defense, our air force, our marine, navy, and building submarines, et cetera. So we are really taking our security very seriously. But, of course, that was a quite good message coming out of the Kremlin today.
Ambassador Hautala, you're the former ambassador in Moscow. Were you surprised by Putin's language today?
I think it's basically consistent of — with what he said before many years ago. But, of course, given the dramatic shift in February in Ukraine, I think we had to take seriously also all kinds of scenarios that might take place.
And we continue certainly to do so. So we take all the precautions. But, of course, this message is welcome. And I think that it's — as I said, it's consistent with what they have said before.
Ambassador Olofsdotter, there will be a time between Sweden's requesting to join NATO and actually being inside of NATO.
And, today, the prime minister said that that would be a — quote — "vulnerable position." The United Kingdom has publicly said that it has a mutual security agreement during that time. But do you feel that you have enough security guarantees from the U.S. or other NATO countries during that gap?
Well, of course, we are fully aware of, we can't get full security guarantees until we are a full member of the alliance.
But our friends, the Norwegians and the Danes and the Germans and the Brits and others, have stated that they are willing to do whatever it takes to keep — help us keeping us safe in this period. We are, of course, taking our own security very seriously. So, we have ramped up the threshold for any aggression.
So, together with our friends and allies and partners, we think that we can make it tougher to threaten us in the meantime. So that's a discussion we are having now on the details of that in the period coming up. But we are very happy for the support we get from everyone in our vicinity on helping us during this time.
Ambassador Hautala, I want to move the conversation over to Ukraine. You're the former ambassador to Moscow and to Kyiv.
Ukrainian officials I spoke to just a couple of days ago when I was in Kyiv used the word victory. Do you fear, though, that Russia would escalate before it seemed to lose?
I think, certainly, it's a possibility that we have to take into account.
I do believe that we have a long conflict in our hands. And I think the Russians are not yet certainly ready to give up on anything. And I think — I think they have their old war goals still in their minds. So I think it's — I think it's very hard to predict what's going to happen next. But obviously, there's not going to be a fast solution to this war.
Ambassador Olofsdotter, I noticed on Friday that Ukraine's top aide, Andriy Yermak, said that, while he was happy for both Finland and Sweden to join NATO, it was — quote — "a double standard" of NATO to fast-track your admission.
Why should Ukraine wait now for 14 years and not get into NATO, when your countries are expected to join NATO within months?
Well, that's, of course, a question for the alliance to take.
I think it's the same, that it's the alliance has set certain standards.
And I think it's up to the alliance to decide which countries meet those standards and how fast and to which — with which results they should proceed. So, we are trying to do our best. We are, together with Sweden, longstanding democracies, also countries with very basically nonexistent corruption, and with heavy defense spending, in our case.
So I think it's up to the alliance to decide how do we meet the criteria.
Ambassador Olofsdotter, I just have about 45 seconds left, so I will direct this last question to you.
The U.S. has a pro-NATO president today. But President Trump was questioned — questioned NATO while he was president. And, of course, the next president could question NATO. So do you believe that you have in the U.S. a reliable partner inside NATO in the future?
Yes, I do.
We have been a longstanding partner and have had great partnership for many, many years. So I think the alliance will persist. And there are many members in the NATO alliance, 30 of them, not only the United States, but, of course, the United States is one of the most important ones.
But I trust that the United States will stay in NATO.
Ambassador Karin Olofsdotter, Ambassador Mikko Hautala, thank you very much to both.
Thanks a lot.
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