Analysis: Why is Turkey a problem for Finland and Sweden’s desire to join NATO?

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that Turkey planned to reject offers from the two nations to join the alliance, after earlier accusing them of being “like guesthouses for terrorist organizations”.

“We have told concerned friends that we will say no to Sweden and Finland joining NATO and we will continue our way,” he told a conference with students. in Ankara.

Finland and Sweden formally requested to join NATO at Allied headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, following Russia‘s invasion of Ukraine. The decision represents a setback for Moscow, with the war in Ukraine triggering the kind of alliance expansion it invaded Ukraine to prevent.

Joining new states, however, requires consensus among existing members, and that’s where Ankara comes in.

Turkey, which joined the alliance three years after it was established in 1949 and has the group’s second-largest army, said it would not back the offers until its demands were met.

Erdogan accused the two countries of harboring members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, also known as the PKK. The PKK, which seeks to create an independent state in Turkey, has been waging an armed struggle 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 candidacy without sending the “terrorists” back, and that the Swedish and Finnish delegations should not come to Turkey to convince it to support their membership of the EU. ‘alliance.

US President Joe Biden met Thursday at the White House with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö to discuss their candidacy for NATO, pledging them “full support” from the United States.

When asked on Wednesday how he will convince Turkey to back membership bids from Finland and Sweden, Biden told reporters, “I think it will be fine.”

The crisis has brought to the fore long-standing Turkish grievances against Western nations and NATO allies, while giving Ankara an opportunity to use its position in the alliance to extract concessions.

Turkey has complained about the lack of support it has received in its fight against Kurdish militants, whom Ankara sees as its main threat to national security. He accused Sweden of harboring its adversaries and supporting Kurdish militants in northern Syria, which Ankara sees as an extension of the PKK.

Ankara also claims that the two nations have not responded to extradition requests, according to state media. Those wanted are accused of having links to the PKK as well as FETO – the group led by US cleric Fetullah Gulen which Turkey says was behind the failed 2016 coup attempt (an allegation that Gulen denies).

Finland and Sweden on Tuesday expressed optimism that common ground could be found with Turkey despite its objections.

Swedish Finance Minister Mikael Damberg told public broadcaster SVT on Monday that his country was not a “friend of terrorism” and that it took “everything to do with terrorism very seriously”.

“We will of course use diplomacy, we will clarify any possible uncertainties,” he said.

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said on Saturday that her country, like the rest of the EU, considers the PKK a terrorist organization. The government has said it is ready to remove any obstacles to talks with Turkey.

Ankara has also demanded that Sweden and Finland lift an arms embargo imposed on Turkey in 2019 following its military offensive in northeast Syria.

Turkey launched the operation against Kurdish-led YPG forces that were allied with the United States and other Western countries in their fight against ISIS. The offensive was condemned by the United States and the EU and led several European countries to impose an arms embargo on Ankara.

“We will not say yes to those who impose sanctions on Turkey to join NATO,” Erdogan told reporters on Monday evening. “Because then NATO would cease to be a security organization and would become a place where representatives of terrorist organizations concentrate.”

Turkey’s president is no stranger to fiery rhetoric, particularly at election time, when a boost on the home front could help at the polls. Turkey is heading to elections next year and experts believe the current state of the economy – record inflation and a currency that has lost nearly half its value over the past year – will cost Erdogan at the polls.

Analysts say Turkey’s NATO veto could be used as leverage not only against future members, but also against current members.

“It may not just be about Sweden and Finland,” Asli Aydintasbas, senior policy researcher at the European Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in an article. “The president almost certainly sees this as an opportune time to air his grievances about current NATO members, particularly with the Biden administration, which has kept the Turkish leader at bay.”

A key issue could be the Turkish president‘s disappointment that he was unable to establish a working relationship with Biden as he did with his predecessors, according to Aydintasbas.

Erdogan complained to reporters last month that he and Biden didn’t have the kind of relationship he had with Presidents Trump and Obama. “Of course there are meetings from time to time, but they should have been more advanced,” he said. “My wish is that we can achieve this in the next process.”

This is not the first time that Turkey has opposed new members, Aydintasbas stressed.

“Erdogan is unlikely to have a specific political goal in mind, but he will undoubtedly expect to be cajoled, persuaded and ultimately rewarded for his cooperation, as in the past,” Aydintasbas wrote on Monday, referring to previous Turkish veto threats within NATO.

While Turkey has security issues that even NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said must be addressed, the optics are far from flattering, with Turkey choosing to voice its grievances and appear as a spoiler at a time when alliance unity has perhaps never been more important.

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