by Jomana Karadshe and Isil Sirius | CNN
Turkey stunned its allies when it looked like Finland and Sweden were set to join NATO.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that Turkey plans to reject the two countries’ bids to join the coalition, after previously accused them of being “like guesthouses for terrorist organisations”.
“We told concerned friends that we will not ask Sweden and Finland to enter NATO and we will continue our way,” he said during a conference with students in Ankara.
Finland and Sweden on Wednesday formally applied to join NATO at the Allied headquarters in Brussels, inspired by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The decision represented a setback for Moscow, triggering an expansion of the alliance with the war in Ukraine that it invaded Ukraine to prevent.
However the admission of new states requires consensus among existing members, and this is where Ankara comes in.
Turkey, which joined the coalition three years after it was founded in 1949 and has the group’s second largest army, has said it would not support the bids until its demands were met.
Erdogan accused both countries of harboring members of the separatist militant Kurdistan’s Workers’ Party, also known as the PKK. The PKK, which seeks an independent state in Turkey, has been in armed conflict with that country for decades and has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
He said on Wednesday that Sweden should not expect Turkey to approve its bid without returning the “terrorists” and that Swedish and Finnish delegations should not come to persuade Turkey to withdraw its membership in the coalition.
President Joe Biden met with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Souli Niinisto at the White House on Thursday to discuss their NATO applications, promising them the “full support” of the United States.
Asked on Wednesday how he would persuade Turkey to support Finland and Sweden’s bid for membership, Biden told reporters: “I think we’ll be fine.”
The crisis has brought to the fore Turkey’s long-standing grievances against Western countries and NATO allies, while it has given Ankara the opportunity to use its position in the coalition to extract concessions.
Turkey has complained about a lack of support in its fight against Kurdish militants, which Ankara regards as its top national security threat. It has accused Sweden of harboring its opponents and providing support to Kurdish militants in northern Syria, which Ankara considers an extension of the PKK.
Ankara also says the two countries have not responded to extradition requests, according to state media. The wanted individuals are accused of having links with the PKK as well as the FETO – a group led by US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, which Turkey believes was behind the failed 2016 coup attempt (an allegation Gülen denies).
Finland and Sweden on Tuesday expressed optimism that Turkey’s objections could be found on common ground with theirs.
Sweden’s Finance Minister Mikel Damberg told public broadcaster SVT on Monday that his country is not a “friend of terrorism” and that it takes “anything related to terrorism very seriously.”
“We will certainly use diplomacy, we will clear any potential uncertainty,” he said.
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said on Saturday that her country, like the rest of the European Union, considers the PKK a terrorist organization. The government has said it is ready to remove any impediments to talks with Turkey.
Ankara has also demanded that Sweden and Finland lift the arms embargo imposed on Turkey in 2019 following military strikes in northeastern Syria.
Turkey launched a campaign against the Kurdish-led YPG forces that were allied with the United States and other Western countries in the fight against ISIS. The offensive drew condemnation from the US and the European Union, and led several European countries to impose an arms embargo on Ankara.
“We will say no to those who sanction Turkey for joining NATO,” Erdogan told reporters on Monday evening. “Because then NATO will no longer be a security organization and will become a place where representatives of terrorist organizations are concentrated.”
The Turkish president is no stranger to fiery rhetoric, especially around the time of elections, when a boost on the domestic front could help the elections. Elections are due next year in Turkey and experts believe the current state of the economy – with record-high inflation and a currency that has lost almost half its value in the past year – will cost Erdogan in the polls.
Analysts say Turkey’s veto in NATO could be used not only against future members, but also against existing ones.
“It cannot be all about Sweden and Finland,” wrote Asli Aydintasbas, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, in an article. “The president almost certainly sees this as an opportune moment to air his grievances about current NATO members, particularly with the Biden administration, which has kept the Turkish leader at arm’s length.”
According to Aydintasbas, a key issue may be the Turkish president’s frustration at being unable to establish a working relationship with Biden, as he did with his predecessors.
Erdogan complained to reporters last month that he and Biden did not have the kind of relationship with Presidents Trump and Obama. “Of course, there are some meetings from time to time, but they should have been more advanced,” he said. “I wish we could achieve this in the following process.”
This is not the first time Turkey has objected to the new members, Aydintasbas reported.
“It is unlikely that Erdogan had a specific policy goal in mind, but he will undoubtedly expect Cajol to be persuaded and ultimately rewarded for his cooperation, as it has been in the past,” Aydantabas said on Monday of past Turkish veto threats. Wrote mentioning. NATO.
While Turkey has security concerns that even NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said must be addressed, the optics are far from flattering, with Turkey choosing to air its grievances and such. Appears as a spoiler in times when coalition unity may never be more necessary.