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‘Neutral’ Europe backs down as Finns and Swedes move closer to NATO

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BERLIN As Finland and Sweden take steps to join NATO, the list of neutral countries in Europe looks set to shrink.

Like the two Nordic countries, other nations joined the European Union for its promise of economic and political unity without taking sides in the East-West divide that endured beyond the end of the Cold War.

But security concerns over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have changed the calculus of Finland and Sweden, which have long espoused neutrality and caused other traditionally neutral countries to rethink what that term really means to them. Finland has said it will decide on NATO membership in the coming days, while Sweden may follow suit as public opinion in both Nordic countries has swelled in favor of membership.

While EU members have pledged to defend each other in the event of external attack, the pledge has remained largely on paper as NATO’s power eclipses the bloc’s own notions of collective defense. .

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Yet Turkey could still pour cold water on the NATO ambitions of Finland and Sweden. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the NATO member’s president, said his country was not in favor of the idea because of the Nordic countries’ alleged support for Kurdish militants and others besides Turkey. regard as terrorists.

This is the key element of neutrality: it means different things to different people, said historian Samuel Kruizinga of the University of Amsterdam.

Here is a look at some countries that have enshrined neutrality in their laws or generally considered themselves neutral in the confrontation between the United States and Russia and their respective affiliates. Austria, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta are EU members that did not join NATO, and Switzerland remained outside of both.

SWITZERLAND

Arguably the most renowned neutral country in Europe, Switzerland enshrined neutrality in its constitution and Swiss voters decided decades ago to stay out of the EU. But his government has struggled in recent weeks to explain its concept of neutrality after aligning itself behind EU sanctions against Russia and Swiss neutrality is analyzed almost daily in local media these days.

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There is little chance that Switzerland will deviate further from its neutrality: its government has already asked Germany not to transmit Swiss military equipment to Ukraine.

The right-wing populist party that holds the largest bloc of seats in parliament has been reluctant to take further action against Russia, and the Swiss are fiercely protective of their role as a mediator for rival states and a hub of humanitarian action and human rights. Neutrality helps to strengthen this reputation.

AUSTRIA

Austria’s neutrality is a key element of its modern democracy: as a condition for Allied forces to leave the country and its ability to regain independence in 1955, Austria declared itself militarily neutral.

Since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, Chancellor Karl Nehammer has struck a fine balance with regard to Austria’s position. He maintained that the country does not plan to change its security status, while at the same time stating that military neutrality does not necessarily mean moral neutrality and that Austria strongly condemns Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

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IRELAND

Irish neutrality has long been a bit of a gray area. Prime Minister Micheal Martin summed up the country’s position earlier this year as follows: were not politically neutral, but were militarily neutral.

The war in Ukraine has reopened the debate about what Irish neutrality means. Ireland imposed sanctions on Russia and sent non-lethal aid to Ukraine in response to the invasion.

Ireland participated in European Union Battlegroups as part of the bloc’s efforts to harmonize its armies.

Kruizinga, who contributed to a Cambridge history of World War I on neutrality, suggested that the more similar EU and NATO memberships, the better it is for the bloc to present itself as a geopolitical power. .

MALTA

Malta’s constitution stipulates that the small Mediterranean island is officially neutral, adhering to a policy of non-alignment and refusing to participate in any military alliance. A poll commissioned by the Foreign Office released two weeks before Russia’s invasion found that a large majority of those polled supported neutrality and only 6% were against it.

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The Times of Malta newspaper reported on Wednesday that Irelands Higgins, during a state visit, stressed the idea of ​​positive neutrality and joined Maltese President George Vella in condemning the war in Ukraine.

CYPRUS

Cyprus’ relations with the United States have developed considerably over the past decade, but any idea of ​​NATO membership remains off the table, at least for now.

The president of the ethnically divided island nation said on Saturday it was “far too early” to even consider such a move which would invariably face strong opposition from rival Turkey.

Many Cypriots, especially those on the political left, continue to blame NATO for the de facto partition of the islands after Turkish forces invaded in the mid-1970s. Turkey was a NATO member at the time and the alliance did nothing to prevent military action.

Britain, a staunch member of NATO, has two sovereign military bases in Cyprus, which host a sophisticated listening post on the east coast which is operated by US personnel.

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Cyprus also wants to retain a veneer of neutrality and has allowed Russian warships to resupply in Cypriot ports, although this privilege was suspended after the start of the war in Ukraine.

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Menelaos Hadjicostis in Nicosia, Cyprus; Jill Lawless in London; Emily Schultheis in Vienna; and Frances D’Emilio in Rome contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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