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Sweden sends troops to NATO frontline as military gears up for membership

NATO soldiers on an exercise in the Baltics.
NATO soldiers on an exercise in the Baltics. Copyright Mindaugas Kulbis/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Mindaugas Kulbis/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Joshua Askew with AP
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The country is preparing to join the US-led alliance, though still faces opposition from Hungary.

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Sweden will send combat troops to Latvia, as the country gears up for possible NATO membership. 

The Swedish soldiers will form part of the first line of defence against a potential Russian invasion of the Baltics. 

While the country hasn't formally joined the US-led military alliance yet, Sweden is already starting to operate actively within NATO's frameworks. 

Stockholm will send a battalion unit of about 600-800 soldiers and heavy armour to become a part of NATO's "Enhanced Forward Presence".

The battalion will stay in Latvia on a six-month rotation. 

Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Sweden launched a bid to join the alliance in May 2022, ditching a long-held policy of neutrality, though it was closely aligned with the bloc. 

A NATO exercise in the west of the capital Vilnius, Lithuania, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022.
A NATO exercise in the west of the capital Vilnius, Lithuania, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022.Mindaugas Kulbis/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved.

However, Stockholm's bid was blocked by Turkey and Hungary, which sought to extract political concessions from Stockholm. 

Under NATO rules, all member states must agree before a new state can be admitted into the bloc. 

Turkey's parliament ratified Sweden's NATO membership bid on Tuesday, clearing the biggest remaining hurdle to expand the Western military alliance after 20 months of delay.

But Hungary is still opposed to Sweden joining the alliance, with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán angry about Stockholm's criticism of his erosion of the rule of law in Hungary. Orbán denies such criticism. 

Whatever the outcome of Stockholm's membership voting in Hungary and Turkey, Sweden is already enlisted as a full-member participant of the "Steadfast Defender 2024" NATO manoeuvres, the largest of its kind since the Cold War times.

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