NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, greets Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during arrivals for a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Tuesday. NATO's summit began Tuesday with fresh momentum after Turkey withdrew its objections to Sweden joining the alliance, a step toward the unity that Western leaders have been eager to demonstrate in the face of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Credit: Pavel Golovkin / AP

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One of the world’s most important partnerships got stronger this spring when Finland officially joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Now the alliance is poised to get even stronger with Sweden looking increasingly likely to join as well.

This diplomatic breakthrough, made possible with news that Turkey is easing its past resistance to Sweden’s addition, comes as current NATO members have met in Lithuania for the group’s annual summit. It also comes as Russia continues its haphazard yet devastating assault on Ukraine, and as questions about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s domestic standing continue to swirl after a pseudo-military uprising in June.

U.S. Sen. Angus King is in Lithuania this week for the summit and extolled the current strength of the alliance, which formed after World War II.

“History will show that Vladimir Putin did more for NATO than any public leader in the history of the world,” King said at a press conference Tuesday. “NATO has never been stronger. It’s never been more unified. It’s never been more solid in terms of its plans and its future. And to that extent, it is because of the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.”

This increased strength and unification didn’t happen by accident. Yes, Putin deserves plenty of blame/credit for unifying European and North American countries against his hostility. But U.S. and NATO leaders also deserve credit for making sure partners both old and new have come together in the face of this hostility, rather than splintering into islands of self-interest and isolationism. Because in truth, promoting peace and freedom through collective security is in everyone’s self-interest.

The U.S. Senate essentially recognized this in its nearly unanimous vote in the summer of 2022 to support Finland and Sweden joining NATO. Both King and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins voted for that measure.

“Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine is leading to a stronger NATO, an outcome that Vladimir Putin never would have predicted,” Collins said in a statement on Tuesday to the Bangor Daily News editorial board. “Last May, I visited Helsinki and Stockholm as part of a Senate delegation to encourage the Finnish and Swedish efforts to join the NATO alliance. Our official visit came just as the Swedish Parliament was debating joining NATO.”

Collins once again welcomed Sweden’s potential addition to the organization.

“It is highly significant that Sweden has abandoned 200 years of neutrality in the wake of Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,” she added. “I strongly support Sweden’s accession to NATO because of its significant military capabilities and commitment to strengthen the trans-Atlantic alliance.”

Recognizing Russia’s blatant aggression and solidifying international resolve against it is not saber rattling or misplaced adventurism. It is a fact-based assessment that broad condemnation and resolve can be a means to eventual peace in Ukraine. Ukraine deserves continued support in the face of Russia’s brutality, and that support is bolstered by a stronger NATO.

A stronger NATO should one day include Ukraine as well. Though Ukrainian leadership is understandably frustrated about the pace of those conversations, there are convincing reasons not to proceed with that expansion for now.

This week, President Joe Biden rightly called this “a historic moment” with the addition of Finland and prospective addition of Sweden.

“And we’re looking for a continued united NATO,” Biden said Tuesday in Lithuania. “I still think that President Putin thinks the way he succeeds is to break NATO and we’re not going to do that.”

So far, the opposite has happened. Rather than break NATO, Putin has succeeded only in strengthening it.

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Opinion Editor Susan Young, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked for the BDN...