SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Well, Mr. Minister, it's a pleasure to host you here at the Pentagon, at this important moment. We frequently sit beside each other in Brussels, but it's good to have you here at the Pentagon.
And let me say, right up front, that I'm proud of -- that our defense relationship with Sweden remains so strong. And we look forward to your contributions to the NATO alliance. The United States strongly supports Sweden's application for NATO membership.
Our two militaries routinely exercise together. Your capabilities are modern, relevant and significant. And your addition to the alliance will make us all better at defending ourselves.
And, of course, that's especially important at this crucial time. Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, a free, sovereign and democratic neighbor, clearly demonstrates the threat posed by Mr. Putin to European security. And on that score, Mr. Minister, let me also thank you for everything that you're doing to support Ukraine.
Sweden has joined the United States and our allies and partners in rushing urgent -- urgently needed security assistance and humanitarian aid to the brave people of Ukraine. And your leadership has helped bring renewed resolve, and resolve to the Swedish defense and security establishment.
That includes increased defense spending and the signing of our 2016 statement of intent, which led to defense policy dialogues and greater interoperability among our forces. You can see the progress that we've made in our bilateral special operations exercises and in the Swedish Air Force participation in Armored Task Force missions.
So, Mr. Defense Minister, we've got a lot to talk about today and we want to thank you for making the trip. It's great to see you here -- on our turf, and I look forward to continuing our work together in the future.
SWEDISH MINISTER OF DEFENCE PETER HULTQVIST: Thank you so much, Mr. Secretary.
And I am really delighted by -- that you're receiving me today, this historical week, from a Swedish perspective, when we, this week, have in our government decided to apply for NATO membership.
We're doing it together with Finland and our country is -- we think it's very important, with a close relationship with the United States. And as Mr. Secretary has said, we have done a lot together to make interoperability, to exercise together and to develop the relationship between our armed forces. From our point of view, we have seen it as something that has given stability to our part of Europe.
But the war in Ukraine is a reality and things have changed and under these circumstances, we can see that President Putin in Russia, Russia has once again done an unprovoked attack to Ukraine, a democratic and peaceful neighbor. War is raging in Europe on a scale we've not seen since the Second World War.
The Russian propaganda can no longer hide the true nature of Russia's corrupt and autocratic leadership. It cannot hide Russia's war crimes, its bombing of civilians, of hospitals, of schools and of kindergartens.
Russia seeks to -- Russia seeks to change the European and global security order. Its attack on Ukraine constitutes a structural, long-terms threat to European security. This is a time when the democracies of Europe and North America must stand together against Russia's naked aggression. The trans-Atlantic link, the political and military manifestation of our shared values and interests is of utmost importance in facing the Russian threat.
As the European security order is challenged, we must stand together. In supporting Ukraine, we must stand together. And in protecting the security of Europe and North America, we must stand together.
Sweden has now applied for membership to NATO. It is a manifestation of our commitment to trans-Atlantic security and trans-Atlantic cooperation, our -- and of our intention to stand together with our European and American friends. In tying our security even more closely to the security of the United States and other allies, we are exercising our right to make our own choices in providing for our security.
Russia, however, does not recognize our right to do so. In fact, Russia has demanded to have a veto on what choices Sweden can make. This is unacceptable. We make our own decisions. In doing so, we are counting on full support of the alliance and the United States.
This will be a close relationship. The United States can count on Sweden and Sweden can count on the United States. We will prepare together. We will plan together and we will stand together. Thank you.
SEC. AUSTIN: Well, again, welcome. It's great to have you here.