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Finally, yes to Sweden in NATO – Asia Times

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On February 27 – finally, almost two years after Sweden’s NATO application – Hungary, as the last member country, approved Sweden’s membership in the Western defense alliance.

For Sweden, it was truly a historic day, as it was for the four other Nordic countries, all of them now NATO members.

With that, the military and security situation in northern Europe has radically changed. Russia is now facing a united NATO front along its western border, and the Baltic Sea is on all sides surrounded by NATO-members, with the narrow inlet to the Russian city of St Petersburg and the small Russian enclave of Kaliningrad as the only exceptions.  

That’s most likely not the outcome Vladimir Putin desired, or even foresaw, when he launched his war on Ukraine two years ago. That invasion, and that war, became the final straw for neutral Sweden and Finland to join NATO.

“A historic day,” said Sweden’s prime minister Ulf Kristersson. The comment was repeated by many and not only in Sweden, which now has joined the Western defense alliance after 200 years of neutrality – a policy that saved the country from being drawn into World War II in contrast to all its Nordic neighbors.

“We are more secure now as a member of NATO,” said opposition leader Magdalena Anderson, of the Social Democrats.  Anderson, then as prime minister, started the membership application process shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – “a war,” she said on Tuesday, that “Russia must not win.”

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And NATO’s secretary general, Norwegian Jens Stoltenberg, proudly announced the successful end of the road for his Nordic neighbor, declaring that Sweden is now “safer” and NATO is now “stronger.”

It was an unseemly delay by Hungary, which had stalled the Swedish application in conjunction with Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Erdogan. Only in late January this year did Turkey finally approve Sweden’s membership.

Orban and Erdogan had already last year approved Finland’s application, but their approval of Sweden came well over a year after the 28 other NATO members had said yes to Swedish membership.

The Erdogan/Orban delay action infuriated political leaders in Europe and in the US. What did the two get out of this? Well, Erdogan, finally, was allowed to purchase 40 US F-16 fighter jets while Orban’s yes paved the way for four additional Swedish Gripen fighter planes for Hungary’s air force.

But their delay tactic will not produce good will. Here were two leaders of, mildly put, troubled democracies, finding faults with two of Europe’s leading examples of democratic openness and debate. It did not sit well with many.

For Orban, in particular, whose country is also a member of the European Union, his delaying action could lead to future friction and problems. His authoritarian tendencies were already seen as deeply worrisome, and his coziness with Vladimir Putin as the Russian leader’s closest ally in Europe was regarded with deep skepticism and uneasiness.

I met Viktor Orban many years ago, in March of 1990, at a huge election rally with the Young Democrats (FIDESZ) at the Nemzeti sports arena in Budapest, in the run-up to Hungary’s first free and democratic elections in the post-Communist era in Eastern Europe.

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Those were exciting and enthusiastic days and Orban, then a 27-year-old law student active in the student dissident movement, symbolized much of that excitement and enthusiasm. “The existence of FIDESZ is a particular Hungarian phenomenon,” said Orban. “We are not linked to the Communist past. We are clean. And we are regarded as honest.”

But in the highly fragmented parliamentary elections that spring, FIDESZ received only 5.4 percent of the vote and 21 seats in the new legislature, barely reaching the four percent threshold.

Today, FIDESZ is still led by Orban, prime minister since 2010 with a huge parliamentary majority but – having moved to the right in a shift to what he has called an “illiberal democracy – an undisputed, authoritarian leader of a nation where many see serious democratic backsliding taking place.

Today, Viktor Orban is also the Europe’s leading Trumpist, having declared in his recent State of the Nation speech:

We cannot interfere in other countries’ elections, but we would very much like to see President Donald Trump return to the White House and make peace here in the eastern half of Europe. It is time for another “Make America Great Again” presidency in the United States. We ourselves are preparing for a presidency. I am talking about the Hungarian EU Presidency. Make Europe Great Again! Over there MAGA, over here MEGA.

This summer, Orban’s Hungary will assume the rotating EU presidency for six months. What will that mean, for Europe, and for Ukraine? All I can say is, Europe: beware!

Veteran international journalist Klas Bergman, currently based in California, holds dual Swedish and US passports. This article was originally published on his Substack blog Notes on America and is republished with permission.

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Source: Asia Times

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