WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden on Thursday strongly backed Nato membership bids by Finland and Sweden in the face of Russia's attack on Ukraine as the two leaders promised to address concerns raised by Turkey.
With the red-carpet pomp of a White House visit, Biden welcomed Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto days after they formally announced their Nato aspirations and said he was submitting their applications to the US Congress, where there is bipartisan support for ratification.
"The bottom line is simple. Quite straightforward: Finland and Sweden make Nato stronger," Biden said, offering the "full, total, complete backing of the United States of America."
"Sweden and Finland have strong democratic institutions, strong militaries and strong and transparent economies, and a strong moral sense of what is right," Biden said with the two leaders at his side in the White House Rose Garden.
"They meet every Nato requirement, and then some," Biden told assembled reporters without taking any questions.
Sweden and Finland, while solidly Western, have historically kept a distance from Nato as part of longstanding policies aimed at avoiding angering Russia.
But the two nations both moved ahead amid shock over their giant neighbour's attack on Ukraine, which had unsuccessfully sought to join Nato.
With Russia voicing anger over the Nato bids, Biden said he told the two leaders that the United States would "remain vigilant against the threats to our shared security."
The United States will work to "deter and confront any aggression while Finland and Sweden are in this accession process," Biden said.
Drawing an implicit contrast to his predecessor Donald Trump, Biden called NATO's mutual defense promise a "sacred commitment."
"We will never fail in our pledge to defend every single inch of Nato territory," Biden said.
But membership requires consent of all 30 existing members and Turkey has voiced misgivings.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused the two nations of backing "terrorism," a reference to the presence in Finland and especially Sweden of Kurdish militants from the separatist PKK.
Addressing Turkey, Niinisto said Finland was "open to discussing all the concerns that you may have concerning our membership in an open and tractive manner."
NO SHORTCUTS: SCHOLZ
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Thursday that Ukraine's bid to join the EU cannot be sped up despite the country's attack by Russia. The bloc must find a "fast and pragmatic" way to help Kyiv, he added.
"There are no shortcuts on the way to the EU," Scholz said, adding that an exception for Ukraine would be unfair to the Western Balkan countries also seeking membership. "The accession process is not a matter of a few months or years," he said.
Scholz had in April called for Western Balkan countries' efforts to join the EU to be accelerated amid a "new era" in the wake of Russia's attack on Ukraine.
Last October, EU leaders at a summit in Slovenia only reiterated their "commitment to the enlargement process" in a statement that disappointed the six candidates for EU membership -- Albania, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo -- who had hoped for a concrete timetable.
In a related development, Russia has hinted it is seeking to cut off Ukraine from Europe's largest nuclear plant unless Kyiv pays Moscow for electricity.
The Zaporizhzhia plant was captured by Russian troops following President Vladimir Putin's special military operation in Ukraine launched on February 24.
"If the energy system of Ukraine is ready to receive and pay, then (the plant) will work for Ukraine. If not, then ( the plant) will work for Russia," Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin said during a trip to the region on Wednesday, Russian news agencies reported.
His remarks came after Russian officials indicated that Moscow intends to remain in territories it controls in southern Ukraine, such as the Kherson region and large parts of Zaporizhzhia. - AFP