Updated Feb 26, 2024 - World

Hungary approves Sweden's NATO membership

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (r) speaks during the parliamentary session before the vote on the ratification of Sweden's NATO membership

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán speaks during the parliamentary session on Feb. 26. Photo: Marton Monus/picture alliance via Getty Images

Hungary's parliament on Monday approved Sweden's accession to NATO, clearing one of the final hurdles for the country to join the military alliance.

Why it matters: NATO has been key to the U.S.-led effort to counter Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and the defensive alliance has long been central to maintaining security and U.S. interests in Europe.

  • Sweden's accession as the 32nd member country of NATO is a blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin. He has said Russia's invasion of Ukraine was at least in part motivated by the Kremlin's desire to halt NATO's eastward expansion.
  • Joining NATO ends Sweden's more than 200-year track record of military non-alignment.

Driving the news: Joining the alliance requires unanimous approval from NATO countries. After delaying a decision for more than 18 months, Hungary was the final NATO member left to ratify Sweden's accession.

  • Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, widely seen as the most pro-Russian leader in the European Union, met with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson last week. Orbán ultimately endorsed the accession after Sweden agreed to send Hungary fighter jets.
  • Orbán told Hungary's parliament Monday that the arrangement would strengthen its security. "Therefore, I ask my fellow lawmakers to approve the legislation on Sweden's NATO accession in a vote today," Orbán said, per Reuters.

What they're saying: "Sweden stands ready to shoulder its responsibility for Euro-Atlantic security," Kristersson said on social media, calling the day "historic."

  • "Sweden's membership will make us all stronger and safe," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on social media after commending the Hungarian parliament for its vote.
  • "Now that all Allies have approved, Sweden will become the 32nd [NATO] Ally," he added.

Flashback: Both Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO in May 2022 in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

  • Finland formally joined the alliance last April.
  • Ukraine has also lobbied to join the alliance. Kyiv submitted an accelerated membership application in September 2022, but its request has divided NATO members.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has criticized NATO for failing to provide a concrete timetable for Ukraine's membership.
  • President Biden said last summer that it would be "premature" for Ukraine to begin the accession process before the end of the war.

What's next: NATO and Sweden need only compete a few more steps before its accession to the alliance becomes official.

  • Stoltenberg will invite Sweden, and Stockholm's government will in turn approve the accession.
  • Finally, the accession documents must be formally filed at the U.S. State Department, which serves as the alliance's depositary.

Go deeper: Why NATO formed, why Finland joined and why Sweden wants to join

Editor's note: This story was updated with additional context on the accession process and reaction from leaders.

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