The UK has promised to help Sweden and Finland should they come under attack, as it seeks to provide security assurances to both countries in order to smooth their path to Nato membership in the face of a possible threat from Russia.
As Stockholm and Helsinki prepare to submit applications this week to join the western defence alliance, UK prime minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday signed a security agreement with his Swedish counterpart Magdalena Andersson. He will later sign a similar agreement with Finnish president Sauli Niinistö.
Johnson called the declaration “a statement of the obvious”, adding at the Swedish prime minister’s country residence: “It’s worth emphasising, if Sweden were attacked and looked to us for help and support we would provide it.”
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, another non-Nato European country, Finland and Sweden rapidly prepared the ground to apply to join Nato.
Niinistö and Finland’s prime minister Sanna Marin will outline their positions on Thursday, and the ruling parties in both countries will give their opinions over the weekend before the expected formal Nato applications next week.
Both countries have been anxious to receive security assurances to cover the period between Nato application and full-fledged membership, covered by the alliance’s article 5 on collective defence. Russia has threatened “serious military and political consequences” should either country join the military bloc.
“President Putin thought he could cause division but he has achieved the opposite. We stand here united more than ever,” said Andersson at a press conference in Stockholm on Wednesday. She added that it would help Sweden whether it applied for Nato membership or not: “Are we safer with this declaration? Yes. Of course, this means something.”
Any assistance, which could include military resources, would depend on a request from the country under attack, Andersson stressed. The support would cover conventional, hybrid and cyber threats, both governments said.
The UK will also step up intelligence sharing, and joint military training, exercising and deployments with each of Sweden and Finland in what it called “a step-change in defence and security co-operation”.
Niinistö told a press conference on Wednesday evening that if Finland joined Nato it would not be a “zero-sum game”.
He added: “For us, joining Nato would not be against anybody. We would like to maximise our security in one form or another. If Finland increases its security it is not [taking it] away from anybody else.”
Finland and Sweden are expecting public declarations of support from Nato and its main member states including the US and UK as well as less visible security commitments to deter any Russian attack after an application. Neither country perceives an imminent threat but their intelligence services have said they expect Russian mischief in terms of cyber or hybrid attacks.
Johnson offered to increase deployments of army, air force and navy assets and personnel to Sweden and Finland as part of the co-operation.
Diplomats have also highlighted the possible role of the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force, which consists of 10 countries including Sweden and Finland and is designed to respond rapidly to threats in the region, particularly those not thought to reach the threshold for Nato’s article 5, which states that an attack on one member state is an attack on all.
The agreements between the UK and Sweden and Finland are not a legal commitment under international law but simply political declarations, according to the text of the UK-Swedish deal.