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Turkey Seeks Guarantees Over Potential NATO Membership for Sweden, Finland
Mevlut Cavusoglu, foreign minister of Turkey, attends an informal meeting of NATO members states foreign ministers on May 15, 2022 in Berlin, Germany. (Hannibal Hanschke/Getty Images)

Turkey Seeks Guarantees Over Potential NATO Membership for Sweden, Finland

Ankara said it is not against enlargement of the alliance but has security concerns over the two countries

Sweden’s parliament confirmed on Monday that it will request NATO membership amid fears that Turkey could delay the Nordic country, along with Finland, from joining the military alliance. But analysts have told The Media Line that Ankara is unlikely to veto their applications.

Turkey is seeking concessions from the two countries whose governments have said they want to join NATO following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

There are fears over the prospect that Turkey could block Finland’s and Sweden’s applications to join NATO, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that he did not have a positive opinion on them becoming members of the alliance.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Sunday that he met with the foreign ministers of Sweden and Finland.

He criticized the two countries for what he said was their support for terrorist organizations and limits imposed on selling arms to Turkey.

“Countries which give support to terror or [implement] such policies about us we believe should not be NATO members,’’ Cavusoglu said.

Officials in Finland said on Sunday that they would be willing to talk with Erdogan about the concerns.

Turkish officials have pointed to what they say is the presence in Europe of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group in Turkey that is recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union.

If they vote no, I think that would cause a serious disruption in the alliance and potentially lead to something of a diplomatic crisis

The PKK has launched a decades-long insurgency in Turkey. Earlier this month, Turkey launched a military offensive in Iraq to attack Kurdish combatants.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday that he spoke with Cavusoglu about Ankara’s concerns and was “very confident” a consensus would be reached on Finland’s and Sweden’s bids for membership.

Kristian Brakel, head of the Turkey office for the Heinrich Böll Foundation, told The Media Line that Turkey’s stance could undo the goodwill that it has built with the US since the invasion of Ukraine.

‘’I think it could backfire,’’ he said. ‘’What we see now might put a dent in this rapprochement that we have seen.”

Turkey’s relations with Washington had plummeted in recent years, most notably over Ankara’s purchase of Russian weapons. 

However, the war in Ukraine has moved Turkey closer to its NATO allies.

Ankara has spoken out against Russia’s invasion and supplied Ukraine with armed drones, and implemented the 1936 Montreux Convention, limiting Moscow’s access to the Black Sea.

Last month, US President Joe Biden reportedly asked congressional leaders to approve a sale of equipment for F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, underscoring both the warming of ties between the US and Turkey and the fact that Ankara must win over other branches of government in Washington to fully reap the benefits of improved relations.

Brakel also said that Turkey’s position could have been a signal to the Kremlin that Turkey is not completely siding with those opposed to Russia.

Turkey has sought to maintain a balancing act during the war in Ukraine between its alliance with NATO and the need to continue ties with Russia, which it relies on for energy, trade and tourism.

Ankara has not joined in sanctions against Russia that its Western allies have imposed and has hosted talks with Russian and Ukrainian officials.

Moscow has significant leverage over Turkey in Syria where the two countries support opposing sides.

Russia could pose security risks for Turkish soldiers or spark a refugee crisis if it attacks areas close to the Syrian-Turkish border where many internally displaced Syrians have sought refuge.

Ryan Bohl, a Middle East and North Africa analyst with RANE/Stratfor, told The Media Line that he believes Turkey’s objections to the Finnish and Swedish NATO bids is partly meant to appeal to a domestic audience ahead of national elections scheduled for next year.

Erdogan’s popularity has slipped amid an economic crisis and rising consumer prices in Turkey.

Bohl says that Turkey may also believe its demands could decrease the perceived support for members of Kurdish armed groups in Europe, consequently limiting an insurgency in the southeast.

“They want to get something that they can take home to their voters for next year, a win against the PKK and showing that they can force the NATO alliance to bend to their demand, show that they’re strong,’’ Bohl told The Media Line.

The analysts both believe Turkey is unlikely to veto the bids in the end because the backlash would be too strong. Admission of Finland and Sweden to NATO requires the unanimous support of all 30 member states.

Soon after Erdogan said he has concerns over the possible membership of Finland and Sweden, many took to social media to suggest kicking Turkey out of NATO.

One tweet suggesting NATO trade Turkey in for Sweden and Finland garnered more than 5,400 ‘likes.’

‘’If they vote no, I think that would cause a serious disruption in the alliance and potentially lead to something of a diplomatic crisis,’’ Bohl said.


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