Turkey’s president objects to Finland and Sweden’s Nato applications

Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has come out against allowing Sweden and Finland to join Nato, putting the two Nordic countries’ hopes of joining the western military alliance in jeopardy.

In a move that could undermine Turkey’s efforts to strengthen ties with the US and Europe in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Erdoğan — whose country has been a Nato member since 1952 — on Friday said he could not take a “positive view” of the two nations’ potential bids for membership.

The obstacle was their support for the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long armed insurgency against the Turkish state, he said. It is classified as a terrorist organisation by Ankara, the US and the EU. Turkey’s president also named a far-left extremist group.

“Scandinavian countries are like some kind of guest house for terrorist organisations,” Erdoğan told reporters, referring to the Nordic countries. “They are even in parliament.”

He added: “At this point, it’s not possible for us to look positively at this.”

Some Swedish officials and MPs have been worried that Turkey could pose the most dangerous opposition to a potential Nato bid, which appears to be backed by most of the alliance’s other 29 members but requires unanimous support.

“There are a lot of Kurds in Sweden, there are a lot of MPs with Kurdish background, Sweden has been active on the Kurdish issue — I’m afraid there could be a backlash,” one senior Swedish official said earlier this month.

Finnish and Swedish diplomats have been crossing Europe and the Atlantic to curry favour with Nato members, whose ratification is necessary for them to become members.

German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said on Saturday that Sweden and Finland were strong countries in terms of their defence capabilities “and for that reason alone their contribution would make Nato stronger”.

“Sweden and Finland are also stable democracies that have lived in peace with all their neighbours for decades,” she said. “And for that reason every democratic country should be delighted that democracies with strong defence capabilities would in this way make our defence alliance stronger.”

Russia has threatened “serious military and political consequences” if either country joins Nato, and on Friday said it would suspend electricity exports to Finland because it had not been paid.

Ann Linde, Sweden’s foreign minister, told Swedish radio on Friday that Turkey could be trying to use the membership push to gain something it wanted. “We know that ratification processes always involve uncertainties, not least that the ratification could be used for domestic politics,” she added.

Pekka Haavisto, Finland’s foreign minister, urged patience, saying: “You can expect everything in the application process . . . let’s take issues step by step.”

Some Finnish officials said Turkey’s problems seemed to be mostly with Sweden and that their own discussions with Ankara had been positive.

Finnish officials have focused particularly on Hungary, which they feared could seek concessions to approve their membership.

Finland’s president Sauli Niinistö spoke with Erdoğan on April 4, describing the phone call as “positive” on Twitter and adding: “Turkey supports Finland’s objectives.”

Niinistö on Friday night said he and Sweden’s prime minister Magdalena Andersson had spoken with US president Joe Biden, including about Finland’s next steps towards Nato membership. “Finland deeply appreciates all the necessary support from the US,” the president added.

Nato officials have said they expect Finland and Sweden to become formal invitees within “a couple of weeks” but that it could take six to 12 months for all 30 existing members to ratify their applications.

Finland’s government will meet on Sunday with president Niinistö set to finalise the country’s application. On the same day, Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats will make their position known before an announcement by the government next week. The countries could choose to send their applications to Nato jointly next week during a state visit of Niinistö to Stockholm.

Turkey had suffered from strained relations with Nato allies in recent years. The US imposed sanctions in 2020 in retaliation for Erdoğan’s decision to buy and take delivery of a Russian-made S-400 air defence system.

Western nations had been buoyed by Turkey’s support for Ukraine in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion, with Ankara supplying armed drones to Kyiv and taking steps to limit the transit of Russian warships and military planes through its airspace — although it has refused to sign up to western sanctions against Moscow.

Additional reporting by Guy Chazan in Berlin.

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