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Finland, Sweden Set for Top-Level Talks on NATO With Turkey

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 6/27/2022 Kati Pohjanpalo

(Bloomberg) -- The leaders of Finland and Sweden are set to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday in a bid to convince him to drop the objections to their membership in NATO.

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Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson are slated to meet Erdogan in Madrid, alongside Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Niinisto’s office said on Twitter on Monday. Their meeting is preceded by a round of talks hosted by NATO in Brussels, including a bilateral encounter by Stoltenberg and Andersson.

Tomorrow’s talks will take place as NATO kicks off a summit in Madrid, at which Finland and Sweden will also be present as alliance partners. The summit provides an “opportunity we should seize” to make progress on the membership bids, Stoltenberg told reporters on Monday.

Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO in May following Russia’s attack on Ukraine, only to have their accession immediately stalled by Erdogan, who is demanding they do more to clamp down on Kurdish groups it views as terrorists. Allowing sales of weapons is another key demand by Erdogan.

Read More: Erdogan Is Hung Up on the Power One Kurdish Woman Has in Sweden

Turkey has power to veto the accession of the two Nordic countries, as a sign-off is needed by all 30 member countries of the alliance. Ankara has chosen to stop the two from even starting talks on the terms of their entry. 

The Madrid summit will decide on a strategic direction for the alliance. While all sides have insisted the summit is not a deadline to resolve the conflict with Turkey, pressure is building to prevent the situation from becoming deadlocked.

Stoltenberg declined to speculate about what would be achieved at forthcoming meetings, or to provide a specific deadline. “The only thing I can promise is we’re working as hard as we can and as intensively as we are able to to find a solution as soon as possible,” Stoltenberg said.

“The longer the situation remains unresolved, the more the alliance’s united front begins to fray,” Iro Sarkka, a NATO expert at the University of Helsinki, said in an interview. “NATO’s active role is needed to resolve the situation, to bring the parties to the same table.” 

Video: Turkey disputes NATO applications for Sweden and Finland (Sky News Australia)

Turkey disputes NATO applications for Sweden and Finland

“We don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes, but it seems it’s a conscious choice to make it appear as though these three countries are the ones negotiating, and diffuse the role of the US,” she said. “But in the end, that’s where the solution is likely to come from -- the US stepping in to make a deal with Turkey to resolve the issue.”

Read More: Turkey Says Position on NATO Won’t Change in Blow to June Summit

Turkey is a key member of NATO, with the second-largest army in the bloc after the US in terms of numbers and a strategic position between the Europe and the Middle East. It wants the Nordic nations to make written commitments to crack down not only on supporters of the Kurdish PKK militant group -- already designated a terrorist organization by the EU and the US -- but also on its affiliates, such as the so-called YPG militia in Syria.

Backed by western nations, the YPG played a significant role in defeating Islamic State jihadists in Syria. Turkey accuses the group of attacking its soldiers near the countries’ border.

Baltic Security

Meanwhile, having Finland and Sweden as members would be a win for NATO, allowing it effective command of the Baltic Sea and reinforcing its ability to defend Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Both countries meet NATO’s entry requirements and would bring in considerable firepower.

NATO Fortified | The alliance would have more control of the Baltic Sea if Sweden and Finland joined © Bloomberg NATO Fortified | The alliance would have more control of the Baltic Sea if Sweden and Finland joined

“NATO has long wanted to bring Finland and Sweden in as members due to their strategic location helping defend the Baltic states and increase overall Baltic Sea security, and because they are security providers, not consumers,” said Minna Alander, research assistant at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin. 

There may be more urgency in having their accession completed given Russia’s recent “very aggressive” rhetoric on the Baltic states and incursions into Estonia’s airspace, she said. “This is a problem for NATO, where Turkey’s opposition can actually contribute to creating a security threat for the Baltics, who are already NATO members.”

(Updates with Stoltenberg remarks in third, seventh paragraphs)

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