British forces will defend Sweden and Finland from a Russian attack, should the need arise, under a new security agreement that sets the stage for the Nordic countries to join NATO in defiance of Kremlin threats.

“What we are saying emphatically is that in the event of a disaster or the event of an attack upon Sweden, then the U.K. would come to the assistance of Sweden with whatever Sweden requested,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on the first of two stops Wednesday.

Finland and Sweden have taken preliminary steps toward their respective applications to NATO in recent months, as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bid to overthrow the Ukrainian government underscores the value of a U.S.-led trans-Atlantic alliance bound to treat an attack on one ally as an attack on all. That same dynamic has raised questions about the period between the submission of such an application and the ratification of the treaty binding the Nordic states to the rest of the alliance — an uncomfortable gap that the United Kingdom is moving to address.

“On the basis of solidarity, values and geographical proximity, the United Kingdom and Sweden will meet challenges in peace, crisis and conflict together,” the joint statement said. “Should either country suffer a disaster or an attack, the United Kingdom and Sweden will, upon request from the affected country, assist each other in a variety of ways, which may include military means.”


Finland and Sweden have a historic policy of neutrality between Moscow and the Western security bloc, although they have moved into a closer partnership with NATO in the decades since the Cold War. Still, those links fell well short of a full-fledged membership alliance, which might have seemed to needle Russia without enhancing Swedish and Finnish security.

“I greatly appreciate the strong support your government has expressed for our security and our right to make our own security policy choices,” Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said in a joint press conference with Johnson. “President Putin thought he could cause division, but he has achieved the opposite. We stand here today, more united than ever, and with the ambition of strengthening our bonds even more.”

The U.K. is one of NATO’s three nuclear-armed members, along with France and the United States. Both prime ministers maintained that their agreement was not linked to a forthcoming application to join NATO — "there's a separate issue about NATO, which which I think Sweden is going to be addressing in the course of the next few days,” Johnson insisted — but there was no hiding the link between the statement of the hour and Putin’s bellicosity.

“The United Kingdom and Sweden share the same security environment in Northern Europe,” the joint statement said. “We face common challenges relating to the deteriorating security situation, due to Russia's aggressive actions. We have a joint interest in a close political dialogue and practical cooperation between NATO and Sweden.”

The recent Russian offensive in Ukraine prompted a sea change in Finnish and Swedish security discourse. Moscow appears more aggressive than expected, and President Joe Biden has made clear that friendship with NATO is no substitute for a treaty-bound security guarantee.

The U.S. and other European allies have provided weaponry to Ukraine, but Biden and other leaders have refused to impose a no-fly zone or take other steps that might prompt a clash between NATO forces and Russia, as Ukraine is ineligible to invoke the Article 5 collective defense provision of the NATO treaty to require such a maneuver.

“The many carcasses of Russian tanks that now litter the fields and streets of Ukraine thanks to Swedish-developed, British-built NLAWs certainly speak to how effective that co-operation can be,” Johnson said in the joint press conference. “But most importantly, this is an agreement that enshrines the values that both Sweden and the UK hold dear, and which we will not hesitate to defend.”

Russian officials have tried to forestall such an expansion of NATO by threatening “serious military and political repercussions” in response to the initial signs that Finland would look West. The war might have seemed to the Kremlin as an opportunity to deter other countries from following Ukraine’s example in seeking NATO membership, but the struggles of the Russian forces instead seem to have left Western officials with the impression that now represents a rare window of opportunity.


“Looking at Russian military forces right now, they are rather occupied in Ukraine,” the Swedish prime minister said.