UK pledges to back Sweden and Finland against Russian threats

Boris Johnson has promised to support Sweden and Finland against potential Russian threats in any way necessary as he travelled to both countries to sign mutual security agreements, with their governments mulling Nato membership in the wake of the Ukraine invasion.

Holding a press conference with the Swedish prime minister, Magdalena Andersson, on his first stop on a daylong trip, Johnson said the type and extent of possible support would largely be governed by what Sweden might ask for.

“The declaration really makes it clear: it’s upon request of Sweden, the UK will of course provide assistance,” Johnson said in Harpsund, the country retreat of the Swedish prime minister. “What matters primarily is what Sweden decides to request.”

Johnson had earlier signed mutual security agreements with Andersson. Later on Wednesday he was due to go to Finland to sign a parallel deal with the Finnish president, Sauli Niinistö, and hold another press conference.

A No 10 announcement said the deals “will see a step-change in defence and security cooperation between the UK and each country, intensifying intelligence sharing, accelerating joint military training, exercising and deployments, and bolstering security across all three countries and northern Europe”.

It added: “They will also see the UK bolster its collaboration on traditional threats facing all three nations, while working also with Sweden and Finland to tackle new geopolitical challenges, such as hybrid and cyber threats.”

While the wording is general, the impetus comes from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the subsequent decisions of Sweden and Finland to consider applying for Nato membership, and Russia’s threats of consequences if this happens.

“The war in Ukraine is forcing us all to make difficult decisions,” Johnson said in brief opening remarks at the press conference. “But sovereign nations must be free to make those decisions without fear or influence or threat of retaliation.”

Asked what the agreement might mean in practical terms, Johnson remained largely vague, but did not completely demur when asked if it could go as far as the UK providing assistance with nuclear weapons.

“This is about our joint decision to show that we will support and defend each other,” he said. “When it comes to our nuclear deterrent, that’s something we don’t generally comment upon, but what I’ve made clear is that it’s up to either party to make a request, and we take it very seriously.”

Johnson, who dodged questions on UK plans to potentially try to escape the post-Brexit Northern Ireland protocol, and his views on the Labour leader Keir Starmer’s pledge to resign if fined for breaching lockdown rules, said the deal was “the foundation stone” for closer links.

“This declaration is something that is about the UK and Sweden standing together, affirming our friendship and our partnership, and our willingness to come to each other’s defence and support,” he said.

Asked about Sweden’s decision over whether to apply to join Nato, Johnson said the UK would be supportive. “That’s not for me to comment upon except, of course, to say that I’m sure the UK will support whatever course of action Sweden decides to embark upon.”

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