Baltimore Sun

Senate approves Finland, Sweden’s bid into NATO

- By Ellen Knickmeyer and Lisa Mascaro

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators delivered near-unanimous bipartisan approval to NATO membership for Finland and Sweden on Wednesday, calling expansion of the Western defensive bloc a “slam-dunk” for U.S. national security and a day of reckoning for Russian President Vladimir Putin over his invasion of Ukraine.

Wednesday’s 95-1 vote — for the candidacy of two Western European nations that, until Russia’s war against Ukraine, had long avoided military alliances — took a crucial step toward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organizati­on and its 73-year-old pact of mutual defense among the United States and democratic allies in Europe.

President Joe Biden, who has been the principal player rallying global economic and material support for Ukraine, has sought quick entry for the two previously non-militarily aligned northern European nations.

Approval from all member nations — currently at 30 — is required. The candidacie­s of the two prosperous Northern European nations have won ratificati­on from more than half of the NATO member nations in the roughly three months since the two applied. It’s a purposely rapid pace meant to send a message to Russia over its six-monthold war against Ukraine’s

West-looking government.

“It sends a warning shot to tyrants around the world who believe free democracie­s are just up for grabs,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said in the Senate debate ahead of the vote.

“Russia’s unprovoked invasion has changed the way we think about world security,” she added.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who visited Kyiv earlier this year, urged unanimous approval.

“Their accession will make NATO stronger and America more secure. If any senator is looking for a defensible excuse to vote no, I wish them good luck,” McConnell said.

But Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican who often aligns his positions with those of the most ardent supporters of former President Donald Trump, has been one of the few to speak in opposition. Hawley took the Senate floor to call European security alliances a distractio­n from what he called the United States’ chief rival — China, not Russia.

“We can do more in Europe ... devote more resources, more firepower ... or do what we need to do to deter Asia and China. We cannot do both,” Hawley said.

Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, like Hawley a potential 2024 presidenti­al contender, rebutted his points without naming his potential Republican rival.

They’re “two of the strongest members of the alliance the minute they join,” Cotton said.

U.S. State and Defense officials consider the two countries net “security providers,” strengthen­ing NATO’s defense posture in the Baltics in particular. Finland is expected to top NATO’s 2% GDP defense spending target in 2022, and Sweden has committed to meet the 2% goal.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he and McConnell had committed to the country’s leaders that the Senate would approve the ratificati­on resolution “as fast as we could” to bolster the alliance “in light of recent Russian aggression.”

Sweden and Finland applied in May.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine, on Wednesday:

Russian forces kept up their bombardmen­t of the southern city of Mykolaiv, shelling it twice over the past 24 hours, regional Gov. Vitaliy Kim reported, adding the shelling damaged a pier, an industrial enterprise, residentia­l buildings, a garage cooperativ­e, a supermarke­t and a pharmacy.

Mykolaiv is a port city on the Black Sea that Russians need to capture if they want to reach their goal of cutting southern Ukraine off from its Black Sea coast.

Mykolaiv Mayor Oleksandr Sienkevych said 131 civilians have died in the city from Russian rocket and artillery shelling and 590 others were seriously injured.

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