It is dark in Kyiv. Here’s the latest on Russia’s war in Ukraine

Swedish Minister of Defense Peter Hultqvist, left, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stand in a reinforced honor cordon ceremony upon his arrival at the Pentagon today in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP)

If Sweden joins NATO, the country will make the alliance ‘better to defend itself’, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in an opening speech ahead of a bilateral meeting with Sweden’s Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist at the Pentagon on Wednesday.

“Your capabilities are modern, relevant and meaningful, 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,” Austin said, as the war in Ukraine continues.

“The United States strongly supports Sweden’s application for NATO membership,” Austin added.

Austin thanked Sweden for its help in supporting Ukraine during the last two and a half months of the war.

“Sweden has joined the United States and our allies and partners in providing urgent security assistance and humanitarian assistance to the brave people of Ukraine,” Austin said. “Your leadership has helped bring renewed determination and resolve to Sweden’s defense and security establishment.”

Sweden decided this week to formally apply for NATO membership, along with Finland.

Hultqvist said Russia‘s war in Ukraine posed a “long-term threat to European security” and called it “a time when the democracies of Europe and North America must unite against the naked aggression of Russia”.

While the United States and Sweden are already working together militarily, Hultqvist said “things have changed” because of the Russian invasion.

“We have done a lot together to make interoperability to exercise together and to develop the relationship between our armed forces,” Hultqvist said. “From our point of view, we saw it as something that gave stability to our part of Europe, but the war in Ukraine is a reality and things have changed.”

Hultqvist called Sweden’s decision to apply for NATO membership “a manifestation of our commitment to transatlantic security and transatlantic cooperation.”

“By tying our security even more closely to the security of the United States and others, we are exercising our right to make our own choices to ensure our security,” Hultqvist added.

US President Joe Biden is expected to welcome Sweden’s Prime Minister and Finland’s President to the White House on Thursday in a key show of support.

Leaders are expected to discuss Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO bids, European security and support for Ukraine amid the Russian invasion, White House press secretary Karine said. Jean-Pierre, in a press release.