Turkey continues to block NATO expansion


Turkish President Erdogan continues to oppose Sweden and Finland joining NATO. Even a visit from Sweden’s new Prime Minister Kristersson couldn’t change his mind. From Ankara, it was said that “many steps” were still necessary.

Turkey continues to block NATO membership for Sweden and Finland. After an initial meeting with the new Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan disappointed expectations of an early approval – and referred to a next meeting at the end of November in Stockholm.

According to Erdogan, Sweden wants to join NATO for its own security – it is only right if it does everything it can to help Turkey with its security. Kristersson pledged that his country will fully comply with a memorandum signed at the end of June, including in the fight against terrorism. “Sweden will honor all commitments it made to Turkey to counter the terrorist threat – both prior to its membership in NATO and as a future ally,” he said at a press conference alongside Erdogan.

In response to the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, Sweden and Finland applied for NATO membership in mid-May. So far, the two northernmost states of the EU have been close partners in the defense alliance, but not full members who could count on NATO assistance in the event of an attack.

Turkey in particular has concerns

For the period of the accession process, however, the two countries have been given security guarantees by several parties. In general, the two countries have plenty of tailwinds from NATO. Their general secretary Jens Stoltenberg campaigned several times for the northern expansion, 28 of the 30 members have already ratified the Swedish and Finnish proposals. Only Turkey and Hungary are still missing.

In northern Europe, it is expected that Hungary will be ready with ratification in December and that this should not be subject to any conditions. With Turkey, on the other hand, things remain difficult. It is primarily about alleged Swedish and Finnish support for the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG, which Turkey sees as an offshoot of the banned Kurdish Workers’ Party PKK and thus as a terrorist organization.

It’s about fighting terrorism – and the extradition of Kurds

The EU, which includes Sweden and Finland, also regards the PKK as a terrorist organization – but not the YPG and its political arm, the PYD. Kristersson emphasized that Sweden regards the PKK as a terrorist organization. “Sweden understands that Turkey has been involved in a long and bloody fight against PKK terrorism,” he said. “We know that Turkey is one of the NATO allies that has been hit hardest by terrorism.”

Messages that are apparently not enough for Turkey. There are positive developments, but there are still many steps to be taken, according to the Turkish parliament speaker Mustafa Sentop, according to the state news agency Anadolu, after his own meeting with Kristersson. For example, there was no progress on the extradition request.

At the end of June, the dispute seemed settled with an agreement between the three countries at the NATO summit in Madrid. However, Turkey continues to complain that agreements made at the time have not yet been fulfilled, especially by Sweden, including the extradition of more than 70 people.

Erdogan is waiting for fighter jets from the US – and for the elections

Observers also suspect other intentions behind the Turkish blockade, such as concessions from the USA with regard to fighter jet deliveries. According to surveys, Erdogan’s approval among the population also increased after the announced NATO blockade – and elections are to be held in Turkey in June 2023.

Sweden had recently made a clear move towards Ankara, approved the export of war material to the NATO member for the first time since 2019, and distanced itself from the YPG and PYD. The Swedish government also announced on Monday that it intends to support a voluntary NATO contribution fund to combat terrorism with ten million Swedish crowns (around 920,000 euros). The purpose of this was to strengthen NATO’s role in the international fight against terrorism, the Ministry of Defense explained in Stockholm.


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