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Why Turkey’s Erdogan is blocking NATO membership for Finland and Sweden

Written by Javed Iqbal

That should be a fait accompli. Three months after Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his forces into Ukraine, the governments of Finland and Sweden formally applied for NATO membership on May 18 as a safeguard against future Russian military aggression.

President Biden immediately signaled his approval, saying an enlargement of the alliance would “make NATO stronger”, and a month earlier the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a longtime Putin ally, told Finnish President Sauli Niinistö that he had no problems with enlargement.

But Erdogan “can change 180 degrees in a second without looking back,” Turkish-born Cengiz Çandar, a senior associate researcher at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, told Yahoo News. On 19 May, Erdogan did just that, announcing that Turkey would block NATO membership for Finland and Sweden too soon, which requires unanimous support from member states, due to his claim that the two nations are “guesthouses for terrorist organizations. “

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Adem Altan / AFP via Getty Images)

Former State Department diplomat Elizabeth Shackelford, now a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, told Yahoo News that the move was “classic Erdogan”, adding that he “will not give up an opportunity to use leverage and how better to do so than in an alliance based on unanimity in decisions? ”

Erdogan’s demands focus mostly on extraditing Turkish enemies, such as members of the militant, terrorist-branded Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey has fought for for 38 years, and supporters of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom he claims were behind a coup attempt in 2016 to oust him. Finland handed out two of the 10 people on Turkey’s list and reportedly estimates seven more while Sweden passed a new anti-terrorism law. But Turkey is still dissatisfied and has insisted on extradition of others for crimes, including public criticism of Erdogan.

“To fully try to meet all of Turkey’s demands, Sweden would have to make itself an alternative form of authoritarian police state,” Paul Levin, director of Stockholm University’s Institute for Turkish Studies, told Yahoo News.

Finnish analysts share the mood. ‘Most of the requirements are impossible to meet, such as handing over a person just because he has used a Bylock [encrypted] application or has written a Facebook comment critical of President Erdogan, “Toni Alaranta, senior researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, told Balkan Insight.

“Many Kurds in Sweden are worried that Sweden will sacrifice them on the altar of NATO membership,” Levin said. While Stockholm plans to make concessions, he said, it is an act of tension. If leaders admit too much, “the Swedish government risks being accused of sacrificing long-standing principles” such as support for the Kurdish cause and civil liberties “or just generally being perceived as giving in to an authoritarian regime that makes unacceptable demands – like, Honestly, I think that’s the popular view here in Sweden. “

So far, Turkey has made most of its criticism of Sweden, which has a larger, politically mobilized Kurdish population of 100,000, prompting some Finns to question the wisdom of the decision to jointly apply for NATO membership. .

“It is entirely conceivable that for a number of reasons Turkey could say yes to Finland, but no to Sweden so far.” Charly Salonius-Pasternak, senior researcher at the Finish Institute of International Affairs, told Euronews last week.

He clarified his position this week in an email to Yahoo News. “I did not say that Finland should go alone, rather that it was not good – OK, potentially catastrophic – that the Finnish president said so clearly that we would [apply] hand in hand, ”wrote Salonius-Pasternak. “I think it would be better for Finland and Sweden to join forces, but giving so much influence to everyone else seems a bit short-sighted.”

If not for Turkey’s opposition, Finland and Sweden would be on a slippery slope to joining the alliance at next week’s NATO summit in Madrid. Now it’s a guessing game if Erdogan will ever be satisfied.

Announcement on the NATO Summit in Madrid

Announcement on the NATO Summit in Madrid. (Eduardo Parra / Europa Press via Getty Images)

“There is concern about the dangerous gray zone period that we seem to be stuck in,” Levin said, noting that now Moscow knows their plans, but NATO’s Article 5 security guarantee – that an attack on one member is an attack on all – does not yet apply.

Former Secretary of Defense Evelyn Farkas, now CEO of the think tank McCain Institute, told Yahoo News that the delay poses a “real danger”. [that] endangers the security of Europe and millions of people. “

By getting Nordic leaders to jump through the cracks, Erdogan is making Putin’s bid, Çandar said.

“Remember, when we first heard speculation about Swedish and Finnish applications for NATO, Putin was very threatening and threatening,” Çandar noted. “But since Erdogan took office, have you heard Putin talk about Swedish and Finnish accession to NATO? Erdogan is doing his job.”

But despite all the attention given to Erdogan’s demands for alleged terrorists, there are other factors at work, analysts say, including his anger over a US-Turkey fighter jet deal that dissolved.

Turkey committed $ 1.4 billion to buy four high-tech F-35 jets. In 2019, however, Erdogan bought a Russian air defense system – and without taking into account warnings from US officials Trump’s White House promptly refused to deliver the four planes or to return the $ 1.4 billion payout. Turkey recently requested that the money be used to upgrade their F-16s, a move that the Biden administration supported but has so far not received the necessary congressional approval. Erdogan’s case was not helped when Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, another enemy of Turkey, flew to Washington this month to make a high profile urges Congress not to approve Erdogan’s F-16 requestsand offered to take the four undelivered F-35s.

In response, Erdogan announced it “from now on there is no one named Mitsotakis for me” and canceled bilateral talks with him.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. (Antonio Masiello / Getty Images)

However, another of Erdogan’s apparent motives for striking a blow over NATO membership for Sweden and Finland is domestic policy, Çandar said. Facing an election next year in a country where inflation is rising sharply, Erdogan’s popularity has plummeted.

“Official government figures put inflation at 70 percent,” said Çandar, adding that it is likely “closer to 100 percent.” By blocking the entry of Sweden and Finland, Erdogan has captured international attention. “Now everyone in the world is talking about Turkey’s conditions and Turkey’s security,” he said, adding that it was a kind of “image building” for Erdogan.

It is certain that there is growing concern among NATO members about Erdogan’s continued theater, Anna Wieslander, Director of Northern Europe at the Atlantic Council, told Yahoo News. The view among NATO members, she said, has always been “it is better to have Turkey inside NATO than outside NATO because of its strategic value as the window to the Middle East.” But tensions between Turkey and the United States are rising, she said, pointing to the acidified F-35 agreement and the fact that Clergyman Gulen lives in the United States, which refuses to extradite him to Turkey. “The level of trust” between Washington and Ankara “is not really there”, which all strains the alliance, she added.

Farkas suggested that NATO allies continue to work with Turkey to resolve the issue, but that they impose a deadline that coincides with next week’s summit.

“If the deadline passes and Turkey continues to block Sweden and Finland, then all concessions, including arms sales from the United States, should expire,” Farkas said. “It is probably the only way we will take action on this – and it is in the interest of the international community that this membership be allowed to continue.”

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Javed Iqbal

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