A majority of Swedes are for the first time in favor of abandoning their country’s policy of neutrality in favor of joining NATO as a full member, according to a new poll. The change, which upends decades of military misalignment for Stockholm, comes as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked a surge in public support for the Western military alliance.
A survey by pollster Novus found that 51% of Swedes are in favor of NATO membership – up from 45% a week ago and the first time the pollster recorded a majority on the issue, according to the Agence France-Presse news agency.
Novus officials said they believed public opinion in Sweden was also influenced by the debate in neighboring Finland over NATO membership. Analysts predict that Finland, which has long pursued a policy of neutrality, will submit a membership offer in time for a NATO summit in June.
The poll result is part of a major setback to Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s decision to invade Ukraine on February 24, with the stated aim of halting NATO expansion in Ukraine and other countries close to the borders of Russia. Analysts say the Russian military operation has only increased NATO’s appeal to countries that have long preferred not to join.
“Swedish opinion in favor of NATO is increasing because they think it will be done with Finland and [people] are then more in favor of Swedish membership,” Novus pollster Torbjorn Sjostrom said in a statement, according to AFP.
The percentage of pro-NATO Swedes increases further if Finland decides to join the military alliance. AFP reported that 64% of those polled were in favor of joining if that were the case.
Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats said last week they would start an internal debate on whether to seek membership in the military alliance. The Swedish parliament is expected to complete a security policy analysis by May 13 that will serve to guide discussions on the NATO issue.
“Finland has already published its analysis and there is strong pressure on us to complete our analysis,” Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said, according to AFP.
The Kremlin has reacted angrily to reports that Stockholm and Helsinki are eyeing NATO. One of Mr Putin’s closest allies warned last week that Russia would have to boost its own military capacity in the region – possibly including installing nuclear weapons – if Sweden and Finland voted to join the alliance.
“There can no longer be talk of a nuclear-free status for the Baltic – the balance must be restored,” said Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council and a longtime ally of Mr Putin.
The Biden administration has said applying for NATO membership is a decision for the countries involved to make, but dismissed Russian complaints that it would be a hostile act toward Moscow.
“Without speaking to any country in particular, we would not be concerned that expanding a defensive alliance would do anything other than promote stability on the European continent,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters. during a press briefing last week.