Russian threats must not deter Stockholm from joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, visiting Swedish parliamentarian Lars Adaktusso from the Christian Democrats Party told The Jerusalem Post.
“We [the Christian Democrats] think we should join NATO as soon as possible and we should have done that a long time ago,” Adaktusso said as he sat outside the Psagot Winery in the Binyamin region of the West Bank.
He is a guest of the Israeli Allies Foundation that brought him and some 22 other parliamentarians from around the world to visit Israel this week.
The delegation includes parliamentarians from countries in close proximity to the Russian-Ukrainian war. Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused NATO of expanding to his borders and has partially blamed his war with Ukraine on the potential enlargement of that military alliance.
“Putin wants to weaken the European Union and NATO,” Adaktusso said. The Russian president “doesn’t want to see any new members and he wants to build a Russian empire.”
The issue of joining NATO has been a divisive one in his country, which has traditionally shied away from military alliances.
“Sweden is not a member of any alliance,” Adaktusso said. The basic position of those who oppose joining NATO is that the non-alliance policy has served Sweden well and we should not make any quick changes,” he explained.
Sweden has not been in a war since 1814 and has built its foreign policy on “non-participation in military alliances.” It remained neutral throughout World War Two even as neighboring Nordic countries were invaded, and during the Cold War.
But Russian aggression has shifted the country’s long-held neutral stance. Sweden this month sent weapons to Ukraine, the first time since 1939 it has sent arms to a country at war
A poll conducted earlier this month commissioned by the Aftonbladet newspaper showed that for the first time, 51% of Swedes are now in favor of NATO membership, up from 42% in January.
Given the location of Sweden and neighboring Finland, Moscow views both countries as a buffer zone between the Russian borders and the NATO countries in Europe, Adaktusso said.
Russia has warned Sweden and Finland against joining NATO, saying it would lead to “serious military and political consequences.” It has similarly opposed Ukraine joining NATO.
Sweden is an “independent country,” Adaktusso said, explaining, “We are a free nation like Ukraine and should have that right to make its own decision.”
Russia’s desire to control the diplomatic decisions of European countries is “very serious,” he said.
“What is going on now, this is a threat against Ukraine and the Ukrainian people,” Adaktusso said. Even more significantly, “it is also a threat against the European security order as we have known it since WWII.”
Adaktusso said he does not believe his country should be neutral in this conflict, nor has it been.
“I am not neutral at all. Neutrally belongs to the past,” Adaktusso said. “We left the neutrality when the [Iron Curtain] came down in 1989 and we became a member of the European Union.” Sweden never took the next natural step to join the military cooperation and so we have been in limbo since then.
“We should have changed our security policy many years ago,” Adaktusso said.
Sweden, he said, had watched Russian mobilization of troops prior to the war, but had never imagined the scale of violence that has occurred over the last weeks.
“Many Swedes didn’t really believe it was going to happen on a large scale that we have seen now” with the high number of refugees and civilian casualties, Adaktusso said.
“What we are seeing” is “terrible and appealing,” he added.
Reuters contributed to this report.