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News / Nation & World

Sweden summons Russian envoy over ‘retaliation’ remark

By JAN M. OLSEN, Associated Press
Published: March 29, 2023, 8:14am

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Sweden’s Foreign Ministry summoned Russia’s ambassador Wednesday after Moscow’s diplomatic mission in Stockholm said the Scandinavian country would become a “legitimate target for Russia’s retaliatory measures” if it joined NATO.

Foreign Minister Tobias Billström called the statement posted on the Russian Embassy’s website an “obvious attempt at influence.” Sweden’s security policy is determined by its government and no one else, he told Swedish news agency TT.

It’s unclear if or when the Russian ambassador will appear at the Foreign Ministry.

Sweden and neighboring Finland jointly applied for NATO membership in May 2022, abandoning decades of non-alignment in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Approval of Sweden’s bid has stalled due to opposition from Turkey and Hungary.

The Turkish government has accused Sweden of being too soft on groups that it deems to be terror organizations. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Ankara needs further assurances before it will give its final approval.

Asked about Sweden’s NATO membership on Wednesday, Erdogan told reporters: “There are certain things we expect of them. They must be fulfilled first.”

On Monday, Hungarian lawmakers ratified Finland’s request to join NATO, but it remained unclear when they ratify Sweden’s accession to the Western military alliance.

Members of Hungary’s governing party said they would wait for the government in Stockholm to clear up lingering disagreements before scheduling a vote in parliament.

The Hungarian government alleges that some Swedish politicians have made derisive statements about the condition of Hungary’s democracy and played an active role in ensuring that billions in European Union funds were frozen over alleged rule-of-law and democracy violations.

Swedish Defense Minister Pål Jonson said it was up to Hungary and Turkey to make their decisions.

“We think it would make sense to have us in the alliance because we think we have assets and capabilities to make NATO stronger,” Jonson said at a London news conference with British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace.

NATO requires the unanimous approval of its 30 existing members to take in new countries.