Majority of Swedes back joining Nato for first time

People protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine, on Sweden's Gotland island, on March 3, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

STOCKHOLM (AFP) - For the first time, a majority of Swedes favour joining Natoin a shift in opinion boosted by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, according to a poll published on Friday (March 4).

In the last month, the numbers backing membership jumped nine percentage points to an all-time high of 51 per cent.

Those opposed fell to 27 per cent, a 10-point drop, the survey conducted by the Demoskop Institute and published by Aftonbladet newspaper showed.

Those undecided remained mostly stable at 22 per cent.

Another poll published on Friday by broadcaster SVT showed a strong increase in support for membership, but fell just short of a majority at 49 per cent. Some 27 per cent were opposed.

Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist said changing a country's defence doctrine was a "huge decision".

"So you don't do it overnight, and you can't do it because of opinion polls," he told reporters.

The minister noted Sweden was making considerable investments in its own military and deepening collaboration with other nations.

The war in Ukraine has also tipped the scales in Finland, with a majority for the first time seen in a poll this week.

For the time being, Stockholm and Helsinki have ruled out applying to join the Nato military alliance, but support for the move is at historically high levels.

Finland's president Sauli Niinisto, who is meeting US President Joe Biden in Washington on Friday, urged Finns to "keep a cool head" when addressing the issue.

Sweden and Finland are officially non-aligned, although both have been Nato partners since the mid-1990s and turned the page on their neutrality at the end of the Cold War.

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In Sweden, opinion was overwhelmingly against Nato membership until Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Experts expect Finland to act in concert with neighbouring Sweden on whether to join Nato.

The eastward expansion of the alliance is the prime security grievance of the Kremlin and last week Russia's foreign ministry warned that if the Nordic countries joined Nato it would "have serious military and political repercussions".

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