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Why Turkey changed its mind on Finland and Sweden’s Nato bid

The Week UK logo The Week UK 6/29/2022 The Week Staff
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Adem Altan/AFP via Getty Images © Adem Altan/AFP via Getty Images Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Adem Altan/AFP via Getty Images

Nordic nations agreed not to support groups deemed terrorists by Erdoğan regime

Nato member Turkey has agreed to support Sweden and Finland’s membership of the alliance after initially opposing the Nordic countries’ bids to join. 

Ministers from the three countries have signed a joint security pact that addressed Turkey’s concerns. Nato leaders will now decide at a summit in Spain whether to accept the membership bids. 

Turkey had objected to plans to fast-track Finland and Sweden’s applications, demanding the two countries renounce their support for Kurdish “terrorist” organisations before joining the military alliance.

After some “hesitation” among the military alliance “about the seriousness of Turkey’s objections”, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had “doubled down on his threat to veto” the Nordic nations’ applications if his demands are not met, The Guardian said.

Turkey, which joined Nato during the alliance’s second expansion in 1952, opposed Finland and Sweden’s membership because of its long-standing allegation that Helsinki and Stockholm back “terrorist organisations” in Iraq and Syria.

This refers to the countries’ support for two Kurdish militias in the Middle East: the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and People’s Defence Units (YPG).

The YPG “spearheaded the campaign against Isis in Syria”, the Financial Times (FT) said, receiving “weapons and training from the US-led anti-Isis coalition”, which was “supported by Sweden”.  

The group, however, has close ties with the PKK, which has “waged a bloody armed struggle against the Turkish state since the 1980s” and has been “recognised as a terrorist organisation by Sweden as well as the EU and the US”.

Western backing for “groups that are affiliated” with the PKK has “long been a source of anger in Turkey”, the FT added, “both among officials and the public”. 

However, under the new agreement, Finland and Sweden stated they would not support the YPG/PYD, and the group known in Turkey as FETO. The Nordic nations also stated that they deemed the PKK “a proscribed terrorist organisation”.

Sky News’s security and defence editor, Deborah Haynes, said Turkey’s “dramatic U-turn” will be a “huge relief to the rest of the alliance”. She explained that the “last-ditch diplomacy” has included Britain’s foreign and defence secretaries playing a part.

The Economist said that Erdogan’s move was as “startling as it was effective,” and the BBC’s security correspondent, Frank Gardner, said “the metaphoric champagne corks will be popping in Nato’s senior ranks” after the stumbling block was removed.

However, said the FT, some Western officials believe the Turkish leader had in fact set out to “instrumentalise” the issue to secure commitments from Washington in relation to Ankara’s push to buy new US-made F-16 fighter jets. 

If so, the move might have backfired as Turkey’s “loud objections” to the admissions of Sweden and Finland had not helped its case on an “already sceptical” Capitol Hill. 

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