Why is Turkey blocking Sweden and Finland from joining NATO?

Why is Turkey blocking Sweden and Finland from joining NATO?

 Why is Turkey blocking Sweden and Finland from joining NATO?

Sweden and NATO officially apply to join NATO

Sweden and Finland have formally submitted their applications to join Nato.

The alliance’s secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said it was “a historic moment, which we must seize”, adding that the Nordic countries’ membership would increase shared security.

The two nations signalled their intention to apply for membership of the defence alliance in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The letters were conveyed by the Finnish Ambassador to NATO Klaus Korhonen and respectively, the Swedish Ambassador to NATO Axel Wernhoff, to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Alliance’s Brussels headquarters. Mr. Stoltenberg warmly welcomed the requests, saying ”this is a good day, at a critical moment for our security.”

Article 5 of the NATO treaty states the principle of collective defence as being at the core of NATO’s founding pact. This clause means that an attack against one ally is considered an attack against all members.

The application process for Finland and Sweden to join NATO could take up to a year. However, once they are members, it would mean that NATO forces could be right next to the Finnish-Russian 1,340km (833-mile) border, in turn extending the NATO-Russia borderlines along the northwest of Russia.

Putin believes the move is an escalation in military tensions. During a televised CSTO meeting, he said the “expansion of military infrastructure” would “provoke our response”.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia and Ukraine have previously stated their wishes to join NATO. However, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Zelenskyy conceded in March that it was unlikely Ukraine would be able to join NATO.

Why Turkey is blocking the two nations

Turkey has blocked the start of Nato talks regarding Finland and Sweden’s bids to join the alliance, two sources have told Middle East Eye.

At a Nato ambassadorial-level meeting on Wednesday in Brussels, Turkey voted against commencing the discussion, citing its objection to the bid. A source with knowledge of the matter said Turkey publicly made clear its opposition to Finland and Sweden’s accession to Nato and acted as it promised it would.

Turkey accuses both countries of adopting a lax attitude towards the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought an armed struggle with the Turkish state since 1984, first for a Kurdish independent state and later for an autonomous region. Turkey, the US and EU all designate the PKK as a terrorist organisation, due to a history of deadly attacks on civilians.

Finland and Sweden formally applied to join the Nato alliance on Wednesday. All 30 Nato members need to approve their admission. Turkey’s stance doesn’t mean that Sweden and Finland’s bids are dead, as a proposal to open negotiations could be raised at a later date.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday repeated his position that Ankara wouldn’t rubber stamp the Nordic states’ accession to the alliance due to their policy towards the PKK, saying their admission depends on showing respect to Turkey’s security needs.

Turkish officials demand that Sweden and Finland extradite alleged PKK members to Turkey, stop PKK activities in their respective countries and end military export bans that were introduced in 2019 in response to Ankara’s military operations in Syria.

Sweden and Finland have rejected Turkey’s accusations, affirmed their recognition of the PKK as a terror group and vehemently denied providing it with any support.

Erdogan said that Nato countries, in the past, have not attempted to understand Turkey’s “war on terrorism”, let alone help Ankara protect itself against attacks or aid Turkish authorities to secure their borders against foreign wars in the region.

“We haven’t forgotten the withdrawal of air defence systems from our borders as Daesh [Islamic State] was pushing towards our borders,” Erdogan said, referring to the US decision to withdraw Patriot missile defence from Turkey in 2015.

Erdogan said that countries like Sweden, France, Germany and the Netherlands were permitting PKK members to organise events in their countries. A giant PKK flag appeared at a Stockholm protest this week, angering Turkish officials.

“They still permit these terrorists to wave their flags in their streets,” Erdogan added. “We cannot say yes to these countries’ Nato bid.”

Erdogan’s director of communications, Fahrettin Altun, said in an op-ed that appeared on a Swedish daily news website that Turkey had seized Swedish anti-tank weapons during its crackdown on the PKK.

NATO and the United States said on Sunday they were confident Turkey would not hold up membership of Finland and Sweden in the Western military alliance, as the two Nordic states took firm steps to join in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Sweden and Finland turned back most of Turkiye’s requests for terrorist extraditions over the last five years, according to Turkish sources, but this may force a breakthrough.

Will there be a breakthrough?  

Turkey has not shut the door to Sweden and Finland joining NATO but wants negotiations with the Nordic countries and a clampdown on what it sees as terrorist activities especially in Stockholm, President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said on Saturday.

“We are not closing the door. But we are basically raising this issue as a matter of national security for Turkey,” Ibrahim Kalin, who is also the president’s top foreign policy advisor, told Reuters in an interview in Istanbul.

For years Turkey has criticised Sweden and other European countries for their handling of organisations deemed terrorists by Turkey, including the followers of U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Turkey has criticised Russia’s invasion, helped arm Ukraine – which is not in NATO – and tried to facilitate talks between the sides but opposes sanctions on Moscow. It wants NATO “to address the concerns of all members, not just some,” Kalin said.

Asked whether Turkey risked being too transactional at a time of war, and when Finnish and Swedish public opinion favours NATO membership, he said: “One hundred percent of our population is very upset with the PKK and FETO (Gulenist) presence in Europe.”

“If they (Finland and Sweden) have a public concerned about their own national security, we have a public that is equally concerned about our own security,” he said. “We have to see this from a mutual point of view.”

Kalin said Russia’s sharp criticism of Finland and Sweden over their plans was not a factor in Turkey’s position.

Swedish and Finnish foreign ministers will soon be travelling to Turkey, in what will be a good opportunity to understand and address Turkey’s security concerns. Only if steps are taken in this direction will there be a chance that Turkey removes its veto.


Hazem Zahab

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