A majority of Swedes for the first time now favor abandoning their country’s policy of neutrality in favor of joining the NATO alliance as a full member, according to a new poll. The change, which upends decades of military non-alignment for Stockholm, comes as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked a surge in public support for the Western military alliance.
A survey by the polling institute Novus found that 51% of Swedes favor joining NATO — up from 45% a week ago and the first time the pollster has recorded a majority on the issue, according to the Agence France-Presse news agency.
Novus officials stated that they believe the debate in Finland about joining NATO is also influencing public opinion in Sweden. Analysts believe that Finland will submit a request for membership, despite having long advocated neutrality. This is in line with the NATO summit in June.
The poll result is part of a major blowback to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine Feb. 24, with the proclaimed purpose of halting NATO‘s expansion in Ukraine and other countries close to Russia‘s borders. Analysts believe that the Russian military operation has increased NATO’s appeal to countries who have long resisted joining.
“Swedish opinion in favor of NATO is increasing because they believe it will be done together with Finland and [people] are then more positive to a Swedish membership,” Novus pollster Torbjorn Sjostrom said in a statement, according to AFP.
If Finland joins the military alliance, then the pro-NATO Swedes’ percentage will rise even further. AFP reported that 64% were in favor of Finland joining the military alliance if this was the case.
Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats said last week they would begin an internal debate on whether they should apply for membership in the military alliance. The Swedish parliament will complete a security analysis by May 13, which will be used as a guide for discussion on the NATO question.
“Finland has already published its analysis and there is a strong pressure on us to complete our analysis,” Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said, according to AFP.
The Kremlin was furious at reports that Stockholm, Helsinki and NATO are considering joining. One of Mr. Putin’s closest allies warned last week Russia would have to bolster its own military capacity in the region — including possibly stationing nuclear weapons — if Sweden and Finland vote to join the alliance.
“There can be no more talk of any 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.