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Sweden vows NATO ties will deepen, irked by Russian demands

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Sweden called Russia’s warning to NATO and its allies “unacceptable” amid a military buildup at Ukraine’s borders, vowing to deepen its relationship with the defense bloc, according to Bloomberg. 

Comments from Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist highlight a public backlash in the non-NATO members Sweden and Finland to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s demands for assurances that the defense alliance stops eastward expansion and pulls back from Russia’s borders. 

“Russia constantly wants to move its positions forward, in violation of international law,” Hultqvist said in webcast remarks to an annual defense conference in Sweden, ahead of a week of talks between Russia, the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. “Demands directed against individual countries’ sovereignty are completely unacceptable.”

While Putin’s demands are seen as mainly addressing the prospects of NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia, another ex-Soviet country, they also have angered the neighboring Nordic nations which have ramped up defense spending after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. In recent years, both Sweden and Finland have boosted military cooperation with NATO and the U.S. in the face of Putin’s increasingly assertive policies.

Finnish policymakers insist that the choice whether to join the alliance or not is theirs alone, most recently with Prime Minister Sanna Marin saying in a Saturday interview on YLE that “there’s no two words about it. We cannot be blackmailed.”

Russian officials will meet NATO representatives on Wednesday in Brussels, and will also hold talks with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe on Thursday.

Hultqvist said Sweden’s armed forces, which have recently strengthened preparedness, will continue to exchange information and hold military exercises with the bloc. 

“Every exercise makes the cooperation deeper and is part of a gradual buildup of competence and the ability to act jointly in the event of a crisis,” Hultqvist said.