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News / Nation & World

Sweden’s flag raised at NATO headquarters

Nation’s place cemented as 32nd member of alliance

By LORNE COOK, Associated Press
Published: March 11, 2024, 4:36pm

BRUSSELS — Sweden’s flag was raised at NATO headquarters Monday, cementing the Nordic country’s place as the 32nd member two years after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine persuaded its reluctant public to seek safety under the alliance’s security umbrella.

Under a steady rain, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, Crown Princess Victoria and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg looked on as two soldiers raised the blue banner emblazoned with a yellow cross among the official circle of national flags at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels.

“The Russian, brutal, full-scale invasion against Ukraine united Sweden behind the conclusion that a full-fledged NATO membership is the only reasonable choice,” Kristersson said. Swedish government ministers and party leaders from across the political spectrum attended in a show of national unity.

Sweden set aside decades of post-World War II neutrality when it formally joined NATO on March 7. The neighboring nation of Finland had already joined in April 2023 in another historic move ending years of military nonalignment.

Finland’s defense ministry welcomed “our brothers and sisters in arms,” saying on X, formerly Twitter, that “now we stand at the beginning of a new era. Together and with other allies in peace, in crisis and beyond.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to order troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, triggered an about-face in public opinion in both countries and within three months they had applied to join the world’s biggest security organization.

Putin claimed to have launched the war, at least in part, over NATO’s eastward expansion toward Russia. But the war had an adverse effect, pushing more countries to join the alliance. NATO leaders have promised that Ukraine itself will join one day.

“When President Putin launched his full-scale invasion two years ago, he wanted less NATO, and more control over his neighbors. He wanted to destroy Ukraine as a sovereign state, but he failed,” Stoltenberg said.