Explained | Why is Turkey against NATO membership for Finland, Sweden?

Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto hold a joint news conference in Stockholm, Sweden on Tuesday.

Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto hold a joint news conference in Stockholm, Sweden on Tuesday. | Photo Credit: TT News Agency/Anders Wiklund via Reuters

The story so far: After decades of political neutrality, Nordic countries Finland and Sweden have applied to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), a military alliance that includes European countries, the U.S., and Canada.

Finland announced its intention to join NATO on Sunday, while Sweden, another Nordic country that has followed the path of military non-alignment for two centuries, followed suit shortly after . Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is considered to be the primary motivation behind Finland and Sweden’s interest in joining the military alliance.

NATO member Turkey has, however, announced that it will not support the Nordic countries’ plans to join the alliance. Any membership bid to NATO must be unanimously supported by all its members in order to be successful.

Why is Turkey against Sweden and Finland joining NATO?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday said Turkey would not allow Finland and Sweden to join NATO because of their stand on Kurdish groups that have been banned by Turkey, the U.S., and the European Union (EU). According to Turkey, Sweden has been lenient towards the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The PKK was established in 1978 by Abdullah Ocalan and has waged an insurgency in Turkey with the objective of establishing an independent Kurdish state.

Turkey is also against the supply of arms to the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish militant organisation that operates in Syria. Turkey views the YPG as an affiliate of the PKK. The U.S. armed Syrian Kurds to fight against the Islamic State during the country’s civil war, a move that was not appreciated by Ankara.

Turkey has also alleged that the YPG used Swedish-made AT-4 anti-tank weapons in attacks on Turkish forces in Syria, although it has not directly said Sweden was responsible for the attacks since many countries have access to the weaponry.

Sanctions by Sweden on Turkey are another reason why Mr. Erdogan is against granting NATO membership to the Nordic countries. “We will not say yes to those (countries) who apply sanctions to Turkey to join security organisation NATO,” he said. Sweden suspended arms sale to Turkey in 2019 over their military action in Syria.

Both Sweden and Finland have also not responded to 33 extradition requests by Turkey in the last five years. According to Turkey’s national Anadolu news agency, these individuals were accused of either having links to Kurdish militants or being associated with the 2016 coup aimed at overthrowing Mr. Erdogan.

Devlet Bahceli, leader of the Nationalist Action Party that is in alliance with Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, added that expanding NATO would provoke Russia further and can lead to the intensification of the war in Ukraine.

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said on Tuesday he was hopeful that the Nordic countries will be able to reach an agreement with Turkey over objections raised against their potential NATO memberships.

Mr. Erdogan on Wednesday urged NATO members to respect Turkey’s concerns about the Nordic countries joining the alliance. “Our only expectation from NATO allies is... to first understand our sensitivity, respect and finally support it,” he said in the Turkish Parliament.

How did Russia respond to the possibility of NATO expansion?

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday that NATO expansion may trigger a response from Moscow although it poses “no direct threat” for the country.

In April 2022, Russia had warned of nuclear deployment close to the Baltic States and Scandinavia if Finland or Sweden decide to join NATO.

What were the reactions from other NATO members?

According to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Turkey may want to have its concerns over Finland and Sweden addressed but is not likely to block their membership. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to meet Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu on Wednesday to discuss the same. U.S. President Joe Biden will host Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö at the White House for a meeting on Thursday.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said her country would be willing to fast-track the national ratification process for Finland and Sweden. Denmark’s Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod is also on board with the idea of having Finland and Sweden in NATO.

(With inputs from agencies)

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Printable version | Aug 16, 2022 11:00:44 am |