Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has spoken out against Sweden and Finland joining NATO, jeopardizing the two Nordic countries’ hopes of joining the Western military alliance.
In a move that could undermine Turkey’s efforts to strengthen ties with the United States and Europe following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Erdoğan – whose country is a NATO member since 1952 – said on Friday he could not take a “positive view” of the two nations’ potential bids for membership.
The obstacle was their support for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged an armed insurgency against the Turkish state for decades, he said. It is classified as a terrorist organization by Ankara, the United States and the EU. The Turkish president also named a far-left extremist group.
“Scandinavian countries are like a kind of guest house for terrorist organizations,” Erdoğan told reporters, referring to the Nordic countries. “They are even in parliament. »
He added: “At this point it is not possible for us to look at this positively. »
Some Swedish officials and MPs fear that Turkey poses the most dangerous opposition to a potential NATO bid, which appears to be backed by most of the alliance’s other 29 members but requires unanimous backing.
“There are a lot of Kurds in Sweden, there are a lot of MPs of Kurdish origin, Sweden has been active on the Kurdish issue – I’m afraid there will be a backlash,” a senior Swedish official said. at the beginning of the month.
Finnish and Swedish diplomats have traveled across Europe and the Atlantic to curry favor with members of NATO, whose ratification is necessary for them to become members.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Saturday that Sweden and Finland were strong countries in terms of defense capabilities “and for that reason alone their contribution would make NATO stronger”.
“Sweden and Finland are also stable democracies that have lived in peace with all their neighbors for decades,” she said. “And for this reason, every democratic country should be delighted that democracies with strong defense capabilities strengthen our defense alliance in this way. »
Russia has threatened “serious military and political consequences” if either country joins NATO, and said on Friday it would suspend electricity exports to Finland because it did not been paid.
Ann Linde, Sweden’s foreign minister, told Swedish radio on Friday that Turkey might try to use the membership push to get what it wants. “We know that ratification processes always involve uncertainties, including that ratification could be used for domestic politics,” she added.
Pekka Haavisto, Finland’s Foreign Minister, appealed for patience saying: “You can expect anything in the application process. . . let’s take things step by step.
Some Finnish officials said that Turkey’s problems appeared to be mainly related to Sweden and that their own talks with Ankara had been positive.
Finnish officials focused in particular on Hungary, which they feared would demand concessions to approve membership.
Finnish President Sauli Niinistö spoke with Erdoğan on April 4, calling the phone call “positive.” on Twitter and adding: “Turkey supports Finland’s goals.
Niinistö said on Friday evening that he and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson had spoken with US President Joe Biden, including about Finland’s next steps towards NATO membership. “Finland deeply appreciates all the necessary support from the United States,” the president added.
NATO officials said they expect Finland and Sweden to become official guests within ‘a few weeks’, but it could take six to 12 months for the existing 30 members ratify their candidacies.
The Finnish government will meet President Niinistö on Sunday to finalize the country’s candidacy. On the same day, Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats will make their position known ahead of a government announcement next week. The countries could choose to send their candidacies to NATO jointly next week during a state visit by Niinistö to Stockholm.
Turkey has suffered from strained relations with NATO allies in recent years. The United States imposed sanctions in 2020 in retaliation for Erdoğan’s decision to purchase and take delivery of a Russian-made S-400 air defense system.
Western nations have been encouraged by Turkey’s support for Ukraine in the aftermath of the Russian invasion, with Ankara supplying armed drones to kyiv and taking steps to limit the transit of Russian warships and military aircraft through its airspace – despite refusing to sign up to Western sanctions against Moscow.
Additional reporting by Guy Chazan in Berlin.