Finland and Sweden officially applied to join the 30 members of the NATO alliance Wednesday. Later, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III hosted an enhanced honor cordon at the Pentagon for Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist.
The leaders discussed the strength of the bilateral defense relationship and the historic decision by the Swedish government to seek NATO membership. They also underscored the importance of security and stability in Europe and transatlantic unity.
Things have changed since Sweden's previous neutrality posture, Hultqvist said.
"Russian President Vladimir Putin is waging an unprovoked attack on a peaceful and democratic Ukraine. War is raging in Europe on a scale not seen since the Second World War," he said.
"The Russian propaganda can no longer hide the true nature of Russia's corrupt and autocratic regime. It cannot hide Russia's war crimes.
"This is a time when the democracies of Europe and North America must stand together against Russia's naked aggression," Hultqvist said.
Membership will benefit the training and interoperability of Sweden's armed forces, he said.
"We must stand together in protecting the security of Europe and North America. This will be a close relationship," he said.
The United States strongly supports Sweden's application for membership, Austin said, noting that the militaries of both nations routinely train together.
"I'm proud that our defense relationship with Sweden remains strong. We look forward to your contributions to the NATO alliance," Austin said.
"Your capabilities are modern, relevant and significant, and your addition to the alliance will make us all better at defending ourselves," he said.
Austin also thanked Sweden for supporting Ukraine with security and humanitarian assistance.