MADRID—The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is on a course to admit Finland and Sweden following an agreement with Turkey, a move that would add vast territory and new military abilities in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The two Nordic countries, which had long shunned joining the alliance, abruptly changed their stance following Moscow’s attack on its neighbor on Feb. 24.
Both countries applied for NATO membership a month ago, but Turkey had balked, taking exception to how Sweden, in particular, has handled issues of Kurdish terrorism raised by Ankara.
“In light of the progress we have made, [Turkey] has agreed to support Finland and Sweden” in their membership bids, said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in announcing the deal on Tuesday.
All other members of the 30-country alliance had endorsed the two countries bid to join NATO, so Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s agreement with leaders of the two candidate countries appears to clear the way for the alliance’s expansion.
“I’m absolutely confident,” said Mr. Stoltenberg, about the countries’ accession. “We met, we discussed and we found a good solution,” he said, summing up the last-minute deal-making before NATO’s annual summit.
The leaders of the three countries signed a memorandum following a meeting that lasted for more than three hours in Madrid on Tuesday, in which Sweden and Finland committed to work with Turkey on issues of concern to it.
Turkey assented to the two countries’ applications after they committed in writing not to provide support to groups that Turkey considers Kurdish terrorists and condemn terrorism against Turkey, according to the text of their memorandum. They also agreed to work with Turkey on extraditions of accused terrorists, terrorist financing and similar issues.
President Biden called Mr. Erdogan Tuesday morning to talk about the Nordic countries’ bids, at the request of their leaders, according to a senior Biden administration official. The official said Mr. Stoltenberg deserved “enormous credit for what he did to get this across the line.”
Earlier, in response to the prospect of a deal, Russia threatened to station ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons on its border. Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council, said Moscow didn’t see a threat from Sweden and Finland in NATO because past relations with the countries had been “quite respectful and mutually well meaning,” he told government newspaper Argumenty i Fakty. But Russia would still need to ready itself, Medvedev said.
The deal lifts a cloud that had threatened to overshadow the summit. With the two countries’ entry now looking likely, leaders can focus on issues they had planned to address.
Before Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February, NATO officials assessing the alliance’s strategic direction were weighing new threats ranging from China to hybrid warfare and climate change. Moscow’s attack refocused their attention on its original mission: the danger next door.
In the months since President Vladimir Putin ordered his armies into Ukraine, the U.S. and its NATO allies have mounted their biggest mobilization since the end of the Cold War. The alliance immediately assumed a war-ready alert level for its front-line forces and put more than 100 planes on patrol from the Black Sea to the Arctic Circle.
Members deployed thousands more troops near Russia’s border and began dispatching weapons and other aid to Kyiv.
Mr. Stoltenberg on Monday said the alliance would increase to more than 300,000 from 40,000 the number of troops it keeps on high readiness, even as it keeps an eye on future threats.
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Leaders from Turkey, Finland, Sweden and NATO posed after the signing of a memorandum In Madrid. Bernat Armangue/Associated Press