Swedish PM hails country's accession to NATO as a 'historic day'

Swedish PM hails country's accession to NATO as a 'historic day'
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Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said the country "stands ready to shoulder its responsibility" after the Hungarian parliament brought an end to more than 18 months of delays that have frustrated the alliance as it seeks to expand in response to Russia's war in Ukraine.

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

Hungary's parliament had then just cleared the last major obstacle to the Nordic country's NATO membership by greenlighting its accession to the military alliance.

The vote, which passed with 188 votes for and six against, came as a culmination of months of wrangling by Hungary's allies to convince its nationalist government to lift its block on Sweden's membership. The government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán submitted the protocols for approving Sweden's entry into NATO in July 2022, but the matter had stalled in parliament over opposition by governing party lawmakers.

Unanimous support among all NATO members is required to admit new countries, and Hungary is the last of the alliance’s 31 members to give its backing since Turkey ratified the request last month.

The move was applauded by outgoing NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. "I welcome the Hungarian parliament’s vote to ratify Sweden’s membership in NATO. Now that all Allies have approved, Sweden will become the 32nd NATO Ally. Sweden’s membership will make us all stronger and safer," he said on X.

Orbán, a right-wing populist who has forged close ties with Russia, has said that criticism of Hungary's democracy by Swedish politicians had soured relations between the two countries and led to reluctance among lawmakers in his Fidesz party.

But the vote on Monday removed the final membership hurdle for Sweden which, along with neighbouring Finland, first applied to join the alliance in May 2022.

Addressing lawmakers before the vote, Orbán said: “Sweden and Hungary’s military cooperation and Sweden’s NATO accession strengthen Hungary’s security.”

Orbán criticised Hungary's European Union and NATO allies for placing increased pressure on his government in recent months to move forward on bringing Sweden into the alliance.

“Several people tried to intervene from the outside in the settling of our disputes (with Sweden), but this did not help but rather hampered the issue," Orbán said. "Hungary is a sovereign country, it does not tolerate being dictated by others, whether it be the content of its decisions or their timing.”

Last weekend, a bipartisan group of US senators visited Hungary and announced it would submit a joint resolution to Congress condemning Hungary’s alleged democratic backsliding and urging Orbán’s government to immediately lift its block on Sweden’s trans-Atlantic integration.

But on Friday, Ulf Kristersson, Sweden's prime minister, met with Orbán in Hungary's capital where they appeared to reach a decisive reconciliation after months of diplomatic tensions.

Following their meeting, the leaders announced the conclusion of a defence industry agreement that will include Hungary's purchase of four Swedish-made JAS 39 Gripen jets and the extension of a service contract for its existing Gripen fleet.

Orbán said the additional fighter jets “will significantly increase our military capabilities and further strengthen our role abroad” and will improve Hungary’s ability to participate in joint NATO operations.

“To be a member of NATO together with another country means we are ready to die for each other,” Orbán said. “A deal on defence and military capacities helps to reconstruct the trust between the two countries.”