Sweden ups stakes with Putin as country closes in on Nato membership - ‘They are the bad guys’
Sweden has said it could join Nato in a massive blow for Vladimir Putin, as the nation's defensive minister branded Russia as "the bad guys" and squarely blamed the Russian president for the country's progress towards joining Nato.
Alongside Finland, Sweden is in talks with Western foreign ministers about the possibility of membership in the 30-nation military alliance following Russia's widely condemned military assault on Ukraine.
The prime ministers of both countries held a joint press conferences on Wednesday, where they discussed their nations' future security arrangements.
“We are now analysing all the security options for Sweden," Swedish defence minister Peter Hultqvist said.
"Nato membership is one of the options but there are also other options we will analyse. We will come with a report in the middle or end of May, of what we should do in the future.
“The reason why this happened is not Finland [and] what they are doing. The reason is what Russia are doing – that they have started a war in Ukraine. That's the fundamental thing 100%.
"They are the bad guys. They are doing the bad things and have to react in some way”.
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Some reports have suggested Sweden's prime minister Magdalena Andersson wants the country to join the transatlantic alliance by June.
Finland - which shares an 830-mile land border with Russia - is expected to apply for Nato membership around the same time.
Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said last week Nato allies would welcome Finland and Sweden into the alliance if they decided to join.
Putin has long harboured animosity towards the peacetime alliance and says he regards it as a direct threat.
In 2014 he signed off on Russia's military doctrine, which placed Nato as his country's main existential enemy.
Finland will make a decision about whether to apply to join Nato in the next few weeks, prime minister Sanna Marin told reporters in Stockholm on Wednesday.
"There are different perspectives to apply (for) Nato membership or not to apply and we have to analyse these very carefully," Marin said.
"But I think our process will be quite fast, it will happen in weeks."
Both Finland and Sweden are in talks with one another on the move, but will each make the decision separately.
Finland has been officially neutral since signing a pact with Russia in 1948, agreeing to never join a military alliance hostile to Russia, or allowing its territory to be in an attack against Russia.
Marin said over the weekend it was time for her nation to seriously reconsider where they stand on their foreign policy.
She said: "Russia is not the neighbour we thought it was. I think we will have very careful discussions, but we are also not taking any more time than we have to in this process, because the situation is, of course, very severe.”
Sweden is in the midst of a review into its security policy which will finish at the end of May.
It is also in a long-standing neutrality agreement with Russia but recent polls have shown 60% of people favour joining Nato if Finland does.
The Swedish prime minister said two weeks ago: “I do not exclude Nato membership in any way."
Moscow has been clear that it opposes any chance for Nato to get larger.
Responding to the reports on Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said joining the alliance would not bring any further security to Europe.
He said the bloc "is not that kind of alliance which ensures peace and stability, and its further expansion will not bring additional security to the European continent".