Sweden and Finland compound Putin’s NATO headache

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You’ve probably read that Sweden and Finland have applied to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). But what does that mean, and why will it be making Russian President Vladimir Putin   who usually abstains from alcohol reach for a vodka to steady his nerves?

It’s a historic move: the Nordic countries are known for their military neutrality. Now they want the protection offered by NATO membership. Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said: “Sweden needs formal security guarantees that come with membership in NATO.”

The organisation was founded in 1949 to protect Europe against Soviet attacks during the Cold War. Today it consists of 30 member states; 28 are European, and the other two are the US and Canada. NATO has come to represent a partnership between North America and Europe based on shared political and economic values. Putin is not a fan, to put it mildly. He and his officials have long complained about the alliance’s eastward expansion, arguing that it threatens Russian sovereignty. In fact, it’s a big part of why Russia invaded Ukraine, which also wants to join NATO. His aggression may see NATO get even closer – Finland shares a border, to the east, with Russia, and while Sweden doesn’t share a border with Russia, they share maritime boundaries.

Sweden and Finland aren’t shoo-ins to join NATO, though. All 30 member states must unanimously agree before new applicants are accepted, but Turkey is determined to oppose the countries’ inclusion. It accuses Sweden and Finland of “supporting terrorism”, a reference to Kurdish organisations that Ankara (Turkey’s seat of government) has designated as “terrorist groups”. These include the Kurdistan Workers Party and the Gulen movement, which Turkey claims were behind a 2016 coup attempt that left hundreds dead. Turkey claims that Sweden and Finland harboured people involved in that attempt