Turkey threatens to block NATO membership of Sweden and Finland

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed Friday his hostility to the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO, at the risk of blocking the whole process which requires the unanimity of the members of the Atlantic Alliance.

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“We do not have a positive opinion”, declared Mr. Erdogan, saying that he did not want to see “the same error repeated as that committed at the time of the accession of Greece”, a neighbor with whom Turkey has historically maintained complicated relationships.

The Turkish head of state notably criticized these two Nordic countries for serving as a “hostel for the terrorists of the PKK”, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, considered a terrorist organization by Ankara, but also by the European Union and United States.

These declarations cast a chill on a process supported so far by most NATO members and by its Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, who said he was ready to welcome them “with open arms”.

Once the decision has been taken by a third country to join, the States belonging to the Alliance must indeed agree unanimously to invite it to join them.

Sweden and Finland simultaneously signaled their desire to continue discussing the situation with Turkey during the weekend meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin.

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde told AFP that she would have “the opportunity to discuss” during this meeting with her Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, who has confirmed her participation.

US President Joe Biden meanwhile spoke on Friday for just over half an hour with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, Washington announced.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki reiterated on Thursday that the United States would support a membership application from Sweden and Finland.

The US Assistant Secretary of State for Europe, Karen Donfried, for her part assured on Friday that there was “strong support” for the entry of these two Nordic countries into the Alliance and that the necessary would be done. to “clarify Turkey’s position” on the subject.

Helsinki had expressed its confidence in Turkish support: after having met in early April with Mr. Erdogan, his Finnish counterpart, Sauli Niinistö, had then estimated on Twitter that “Turkey supports[enait] Finland’s objectives”.

The Finnish candidacy, defended by the president and the prime minister, must be formalized by the tandem at the head of the executive on Sunday, after the meeting of a government council.

On Friday, an official Swedish report paved the way for Sweden’s accession to NATO, multiplying the favorable conclusions before the decision of this country and its Finnish neighbor in the following days.

Moscow had in advance denounced a decision which “certainly” would constitute a threat against Russia and would have “consequences (…) for the European security architecture as a whole”.

Even before Russia launched the invasion of Ukraine, Turkey for its part did everything to maintain good relations with the two countries, on which its economy closely depends and although it provides combat drones to Kyiv.

It even hosted talks between the two belligerents twice in March, in Antalya (south), then in Istanbul.

For Soner Cagaptay, an analyst from the Washington Institute contacted by AFP, Turkey’s attitude towards Sweden and Finland “risks making it appear within NATO as a pro-Russian country, like the Hungary in Europe”.

“His reasons may be legitimate, but this risks damaging his image within NATO”, he added, judging that these objections “should have been negotiated behind closed doors”.

For others, Turkey seeks above all to enjoy a tactical advantage.

“President Erdogan is a smart tactician and he knows this is an opportunity to get something in return from NATO members… F-35 fighter jets, for example,” said Elisabeth Braw of the American Enterprise Institute to AFP.

After decades out of military alliances, Sweden and Finland, both non-aligned, are ready to formally announce their candidacy for Atlantic Alliance membership, a direct result of Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

According to the latest polls, half of the approximately ten million Swedes are now in favor of joining the alliance, two thirds if the Finns also join.

And in Finland, which has a 1,300 kilometer border with Russia, more than three quarters of its 5.5 million inhabitants want to join the NATO umbrella.


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