STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Sweden’s security strategy would be entirely undermined if NATO agreed to refrain from expanding further and curb some of its activity in Europe, as Russia has demanded, Sweden’s top military commander said.
The Russian demands, listed last month, have unnerved European non-NATO members including Sweden, which has strengthened ties with the alliance even if it has no plans to join at present.
Sweden’s government has since stepped up diplomatic activity, with Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson holding talks with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Friday.
“Thank you NATO SG @jensstoltenberg for our conversation on the importance of upholding the European security order and deepening the partnership between Sweden and NATO,” she said on Twitter.
Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde also met U.S. President Joe Biden’s Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer.
The meetings come as General Micael Byden told daily Dagens Nyheter in comments published on Friday: “The proposals for a new security order would destroy the foundations of our security policy structure.”
“We aim to become a stronger defence power in all categories and develop overall defence. But that hinges on developed international cooperation,” the commander said.
NATO diplomats have said Russia cannot have a veto on further expansion of the alliance and NATO has the right to decide its own military posture.
Moscow says the demands are essential for lowering tensions in Europe and defusing a crisis over Ukraine, which Western countries have accused Russia of sizing up for a potential invasion after building up troops near the border. Russia has denied planning an invasion.
Among the demands are ruling out further NATO expansion and Ukraine’s accession to the alliance and abandoning any NATO military activities in Ukraine, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia.
On Thursday, after talks with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Andersson said Europe’s security order was non-negotiable. “In Sweden, we ourselves decide over our foreign and security policy and who we cooperate with.”
(Reporting by Niklas Pollard, additional reporting by Anna Ringstrom; Editing by John Stonestreet and Alison Williams)