Sweden and Finland jointly applied for NATO membership in May 2022. The decision was taken shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine. By early February, all NATO countries, with the exception of Hungary and Turkey, had ratified the protocol on the admission of new members to the Alliance. While Budapest explained the delay in the ratification by saying that the country’s parliament would resume its work only at the end of February, Ankara from the beginning imposed a number of conditions on which Sweden was ready to approve its application for admission to NATO. What is Erdogan playing?
Ankara demanded, above all, that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and its related structures be recognized as terrorist organizations and that the deliveries of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, which were suspended after Ankara bought SAM S-400 missiles from Russia in 2019, be resumed.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
In the summer of 2022, the two sides reached an agreement under which Sweden and Finland agreed, among other things, to: to “prevent the activities” of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and other entities that Turkey considers terrorist. In addition, Ankara demanded the extradition of more than seventy people from Sweden, including members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which defends the rights of Kurds in Turkey, supporters of preacher Fethullah Gulen and other opponents of the current government.
The list primarily includes journalist Bulent Kenes, whom Ankara accuses of involvement in the 2016 uprising. In December, Sweden refused to extradite him.
In January, far-right Danish politician Rasmus Paludan burned a Koran outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm in an action approved by local authorities. The Turkish president called the action a “despicable act” and Sweden’s disrespect for both Turkey and Muslims. “If Sweden does not respect Turkey as well as the religious feelings of Muslims, it will not receive any support from us for NATO membership,” Erdogan said.
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Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also announced that the country’s parliament could not support Sweden’s offer under the current circumstances. “We cannot say ‘yes’ to their NATO membership until our demands are met,” Cavusoglu said. Discussions on the admission of new members to the North Atlantic Alliance could be resumed after Stockholm fulfills its earlier commitments, he added.
Both the authorities of Sweden and Finland have assured that the process of NATO membership is continuing despite the statements of the Turkish authorities, but the key meeting on the applications of the Nordic countries, which was to be held in Brussels, has been postponed indefinitely.
The Turkish authorities have signaled that it is possible to consider separately Sweden’s and Finland’s applications for NATO membership. – They [władze Szwecji] they laugh at us in their own way… If necessary, we can send another message about Finland. Sweden will be shocked,” said the Turkish president. For his part, the Turkish foreign minister said that when it comes to considering the applications separately, “Ankara is more positive about Helsinki’s accession to the NATO bloc.”
– Finland has similar laws [dotyczące wolności słowa] to Sweden, but unlike Stockholm, Helsinki does not sanction the burning of the Koran, Cavusoglu said.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto
The Finnish authorities have repeatedly emphasized that the simultaneous accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO is the best solution from the point of view of the common security policy of these countries. However, after the reaction of the Turkish authorities to the burning of the Koran, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto admitted that his country may have to reconsider joining NATO at the same time as Sweden. He later toned down this comment, noting that the joint inclusion of countries in the alliance remains a priority option.
The Finnish foreign minister also did not rule out that the process of approving the application could be delayed until mid-May, when Turkey will hold presidential and parliamentary elections. Finland, however, hopes that the country will become a NATO member by the Alliance’s summit in Vilnius on July 11-12, 2023.