Hungary approves Sweden's bid to join Nato as the military alliance expands in the face of Russia's war in Ukraine

26 February 2024, 20:59

Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orbán
Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orbán. Picture: Alamy

By Christian Oliver

Hungary has approved Sweden's bit to join Nato - ending more than 18 months of delays and frustrations that have prevented the military alliance from expanding in the face of Russia's war in Ukraine.

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Hungary's parliament voted on Monday to ratify Sweden's membership, passing the legislation with 188 votes for and six against.

It came as a culmination of months of wrangling by Hungary's allies to convince the country's nationalist government to lift its block on Sweden's membership.

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban submitted the protocols for approving Sweden's entry into Nato in July 2022, but the matter had stalled in parliament over opposition by governing party lawmakers.

For a new country to join Nato, it must receive unanimous support among all member nations. Hungary is the last of the alliance's 31 members to give its backing to Sweden since Turkey ratified the request last month.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban gestures after addressing a parliament session, on the day lawmakers are expected to approve Sweden's accession into NATO, in Budapest, Monday
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban gestures after addressing a parliament session, on the day lawmakers are expected to approve Sweden's accession into NATO, in Budapest, Monday. Picture: Alamy

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An earlier stumbling block to Hungary's membership came when Orban, a right-wing populist with close ties to Russia, said criticism of Hungary's democracy by Swedish politicians had soured relations between the two countries.

He cited this as a reason that led to reluctance to approve Swedish membership among lawmakers in his Fidesz party.

But the vote on Monday removed the final membership hurdle for Sweden which, along with neighbouring Finland, first applied to join the alliance in May 2022.

Addressing lawmakers before the vote, Mr Orban said: "Sweden and Hungary's military co-operation and Sweden's Nato accession strengthen Hungary's security."

He criticised European Union and Nato allies for placing increased pressure on his government in recent months to move forward on bringing Sweden into the alliance.

"Several people tried to intervene from the outside in the settling of our disputes (with Sweden), but this did not help but rather hampered the issue," Orban said.

"Hungary is a sovereign country, it does not tolerate being dictated by others, whether it be the content of its decisions or their timing."

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban pose for a photo prior to their talks on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, China, October 17, 2023
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban pose for a photo prior to their talks on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, China, October 17, 2023. Picture: Alamy

The US ambassador to Hungary, David Pressman, told reporters Sweden's approval was "a decision of strategic significance to the United States of America, to Hungary and to the trans-Atlantic alliance as a whole".

"This has been a decision that has taken some time, and we look forward to the process concluding rapidly," Pressman said.

A presidential signature, which is needed to formally endorse the approval of Sweden's Nato bid, was expected within the next few days.

But on Friday, Ulf Kristersson, Sweden's prime minister, met with Mr Orban in Hungary's capital where they appeared to reach a decisive reconciliation after months of diplomatic tensions.

Following their meeting, the leaders announced the conclusion of a defence industry agreement that will include Hungary's purchase of four Swedish-made JAS 39 Gripen jets and the extension of a service contract for its existing Gripen fleet.

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