May 25, 2016 / 4:44 PM / 4 years ago

Swedish parliament ratifies NATO accord amid Russia tensions

Sweden's Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist speaks at a news conference in Baghdad, Iraq, November 2, 2015. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden’s parliament on Wednesday ratified a deal granting NATO more access to the neutral Nordic country for training exercises and in the event of a war in the region, a step reflecting heightened tensions with Russia.

Sweden is outside the U.S.-led NATO but has moved closer to the alliance in recent years, cooperating with NATO states like Denmark, Norway and Iceland and participating in operations in Afghanistan.

The center-left minority government won the parliamentary vote by a margin of 291-21.

“This deal will not change our relationship with NATO nor our security policy. We will remain non-aligned,” Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist told parliament. “There will be no NATO troops on Swedish soil without an invitation.”

Sweden’s closeness to NATO has already angered Moscow. In April, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told daily Dagens Nyheter that Russia would take unspecified action if Sweden joined NATO.

The Ukraine and Crimea crises have wrought increased tension between Russia and the West and within the Baltic Sea region. Sweden has accused Russian warplanes of carrying out simulated bombing runs near its border and its security agency has warned of Russian spies active in the country.

Sweden’s government has said it will not join NATO. However, the four main center-right opposition parties favor membership and polls show increasing numbers of Swedes agree.

Reporting by Alistair Scrutton and Johan Sennero; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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