Star Tribune

By Emma Nelson

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar visited the American Swedish Institute on Monday to highlight Minnesota's ties to Sweden and Finland as they seek to become the newest members of NATO.

Their move to join the alliance, prompted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, marks a major shift for the longtime neutral nations. It also carries special significance for Minnesota, which boasts a deep-seated Scandinavian heritage dating to the mid-19th century.

"Right now, just like in the United States, Finland and Sweden see this unparalleled moment in history," said Klobuchar, who wore a trio of pins depicting the American flag alongside the flags of Sweden, Finland and Ukraine. "We are all coming out of a two-year plague, out of kind of a slumber, civically, to realize how fragile democracy truly is."

"The cool thing about Sweden and Finland is they don't just join to help their own security — they bring a lot to the table," Klobuchar said. Their membership in NATO would bulk up the alliance's military power.

Karin Olofsdotter, the Swedish ambassador to the U.S., appeared at the event virtually and began her speech by describing the country's centuries-long path from warmonger to peace-broker. After decades of embracing neutrality, Sweden's majority Social Democratic party now backs joining NATO.

"The 24th of February changed everything for us," Olofsdotter said. "When we saw the brutal attack of Russia on a sovereign, democratic, independent state for no reason, we realized that things had really changed and we need to look over our own security architecture."

Klobuchar was among U.S. senators who visited Ukraine and met President Volodymyr Zelenskyy before the Russian invasion. She later witnessed the refugee crisis first-hand during a visit to the Ukrainian border with Poland. The Democratic senator is on a recent list of Americans, including politicians of both parties, who are banned from Russia because of their support for Ukraine.

The U.S. has been providing military support to Ukraine since the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. On Saturday, President Joe Biden signed legislation allocating $40 billion for military and humanitarian assistance. Sweden and Finland, like other countries around the world, also have been providing aid.

Klobuchar and a bipartisan group of fellow senators met with the Swedish prime minister and Finnish president last week to highlight American support for the decision to join NATO. She said Monday that she expects U.S. approval "is going to happen quite quickly."

There is bipartisan Senate support for signing off on the two NATO bids, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are asking the Biden administration to fast-track approval.

U.S. approval doesn't guarantee the two countries' admission. All 30 NATO member countries must approve, and Turkey has signaled it doesn't support allowing the two nations to join.

"This invasion's horrific, but the fact that we've been able to get our act together and lead the world again is very significant," Klobuchar said. "Everyone knows that this isn't easy. But it is more than worth it."