France says it will defend Sweden, Finland against attacks as they seek NATO membership

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May 16 (UPI) — France will defend Sweden and Finland, Elysee said Monday, as the two Nordic countries have received threats from Russia over their decisions to join the NATO defensive military alliance.

“Whoever would seek to test European solidarity by threatening or attacking their sovereignty, through whatever means, must be certain that France will stand shoulder to shoulder with Finland and Sweden,” Elysee said in a statement, adding that it “stands ready to increase its security and defense cooperation with both partners, including through high-level political consultations and enhanced military interactions.”

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The statement was issued the day Sweden’s government announced it decided to apply for NATO membership and one day after Finland made a similar declaration.

Last week, amid talks of Finland applying for NATO members, Russia’s foreign ministry warned in a statement that the military alliance expanding to its border would pose “a military threat to our country” and that it would be “forced to take retaliatory steps, both military-technical and otherwise.”

On Monday after Sweden’s decision was announced, Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov called it “yet another grave mistake that might have far-reaching consequences.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday had a comparatively muted response to those of his government, telling a summit in Moscow of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, an intergovernmental military alliance of some post-Soviet Union nations, that Russia has “no problems” with Finland and Sweden joining NATO “but the expansion of military infrastructure to this territory will certainly cause our response.”

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“What it will be, we will look at based on threats that will be created for us,” he said. “Let’s respond accordingly.”

The two Nordic countries have sought NATO membership amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has heightened military concerns throughout the region.

France said it “welcomes” the decision by Finland and Sweden to join the alliance as they are “two very close European partners” who share and defend their principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.

“Thanks to their robust defense capabilities, Finland and Sweden joining NATO will reinforce the security and stability of the Baltic Sea region as well as that of Europe as a whole and of the Euro-Atlantic area,” it said.

Ukraine along with Moldova and Georgia have also applied to join the European Union since the war began.