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Sweden and Finland formally submit Nato applications.

Sweden and Finland began the formal process of joining Nato on Wednesday morning when their ambassadors to the alliance submitted signed letters of application to the alliance just after 8am on Wednesday morning.

As the accession process began, the US navy announced that the warship USS Kearsarge is en route to Stockholm to “work with allies and partners in ensuring security and stability the region”.

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said it was an “honour” to accept the letters of application personally from Sweden’s ambassador to Nato, Axel Wernhoff, and the Finnish representative Klaus Korhonen.

“This is a good day at a critical time for our security,” he told them at Nato headquarters near Brussels. “Your applications are an historic step.”

The move follows weeks of heated debate in the two countries since Russia’s February 24th invasion of Ukraine leading to parliamentary debate and formal government decisions in the last days.

The Swedish and Finnish applications will be assessed by other Nato ambassadors as early as today before opening formal talks. The applications must then be passed onto the 30 member states for their agreement, a process which can take up to a year.

With unanimous agreement a requirement for accession, work is going on behind the scenes to address grievances aired by Ankara towards Finland and Sweden: on sanctions they imposed on Ankara over its Syrian war actions and their acceptance of members of groups Turkey views as terrorist organisations.

After a phone call with Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Mr Stoltenberg described Ankara was “a valued ally and any security concerns need to be addressed, we must stand together at this historic moment”.

Finnish and Swedish leaders travel to Washington to meet US president Joe Biden on Thursday. His administration has signalled a readiness to fast-track their applications while Canada said it hopes to ratify Finland and Sweden’s accession protocol within a few days.

With Finland and Sweden now in the so-called “grey zone”, between formal application and accession, leading Nato allies have stated publicly their readiness to defend the two Nordic countries in this interim period.

After signing mutual defence agreements with the US and UK, German chancellor Olaf Scholz has vowed to “increase our military co-operation, in particularly in the Baltic Sea region and through joint exercises”.

Many foreign vessels are en route to the Baltic region to participate in upcoming Nato exercises between June 5th-6th.

The USS Kearsarge, which is on its way to Sweden, is mainly used for transporting troops from land to sea, as well as helicopters, fighter jets and other equipment. But authorities in Stockholm have expressed concern over whether the ship will fit into the capital’s harbour.

Rebecca Landberg, Stockholm’s marine communications spokeswoman, told the Dagens Nyheter daily: “We’ll have to see if she’ll fit in the harbour, she’s so large she might have to moor outside.”

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