Putin ‘turns public opinion’ in Scandi nations scramble to join NATO

Finland’s accession to NATO addressed by Shoigu

A veteran European former foreign minister who helped negotiate his country’s accession into NATO in the 1990s has said the west “should be grateful” to Vladimir Putin for helping the alliance achieve the expansion it has wanted for years.

Zsolt Nemeth was Hungary’s foreign minister when his country joined NATO in 1999 along with many other former Warsaw Pact Eastern European allies.

Speaking to Express.co.uk, the veteran European Parliamentarian said expansion of the alliance into northern Scandanavia with Finland and Sweden had been an aim of NATO’s for many years but had only been achievable as a result of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

He said: “We needed these two Scandinavian countries for a long time and we have to be grateful to Putin because Putin was a critical element.”

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He went on: “Putin is the best lobbyist for NATO because now the Swedish and the Finnish public opinion has totally turned towards NATO.”

But on his visit to London, Mr Nemeth warned that while Finland has now been accepted into the alliance, Sweden’s entry is more difficult.

He said his country was supporting efforts by Turkey to get guarantees that Sweden will stop supporting Kurdish groups which Turkish President Erdogan’s government have described as terrorists.

Today, Erdogan again made it clear his government will veto Sweden’s application unless more concessions are made.

Mr Nemeth told Express.co.uk that his country, which has been accused of being too close to Moscow, would support Turkey.

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He said: “This is an extremely sensitive matter for Turkey.

“They have been confronting with this PKK (Kurdish) terror organisation for long decades and the financing and activities on behalf of the immigrant circles inside Sweden have been critical in the whole process.

“So we encourage the talks which have started between them. I would be very glad if they were able to conclude.

“Hungary has a very intimate and close relationship with Turkey. We don’t want to leave Turkey to stand alone.”

He added: “We have an agreement with Turkey that when the green light is coming, then Hungary will [vote for Sweden’s accession] right away.”

Mr Nemeth, who is a senior parliamentarian in Viktor Orban’s ruling Fidesz party, also hit back at criticism of his country for its actions during the Ukraine war includng not allowing weapons to go through its border.

There have been claims that Hungary has been too accomodating to Putin.

But Mr Nemeth pointed out that his country is carrying out the battlefield medical training for Ukraine’s army as well as sending medical supplies.

He insisted: “Hungary from the very first moment, has been clear in condemning the Russian military aggression.

“We have to exploit all opportunities to make clear to all of our international partners that is unacceptable to invade your neighbour of any reason.”

Hungary has also taken in 2.5 million Ukrainian refugees during the conflict.

He also said that he agreed with Hungary’s proposal for Ukraine to become a member of the European Union.

But he warned that this would need guarantees from Ukraine not to mistreat minorities in its country such as ethnic Hungarians.

This included a dispute over internal sanctions by Ukraine against the Hungarian OTP bank accused of aiding the Russians.

He said: “The war cannot be an excuse for human rights and rule of law breaches.”

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