Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has turned the screws on Sweden by personally appointing whom he wants Swedish judges to extradite in exchange for NATO membership.
“It is crucial that Sweden extradites terrorists wanted by Turkey, including senior FETÖ official Bülent Keneş,” Erdoğan said in Ankara on Tuesday (November 8th), after meeting Sweden’s new prime minister for the first time.
Keneş is an exiled Turkish editor, who ran the Zaman newspaper, and who was previously imprisoned for tweets deemed insulting towards Erdoğan.
FETÖ is Turkey‘s name for supporters of Fethullah Gülen, a US-based Muslim leader whom Erdoğan blames for staging a failed coup in 2016.
Tuesday’s summit in Ankara was supposed to help unlock NATO‘s northern expansion.
Sweden and Finland applied for membership in May to protect themselves from Russian aggression, but they are still waiting for Turkey and Hungary to ratify membership.
Turkey had previously asked Sweden to extradite 73 terrorist suspects, mostly from Kurdish separatist groups, such as the PKK and YPG.
“The terrorist organizations PKK/PYD/YPG, FETÖ and DHKP-C must be prevented from exploiting Sweden’s democratic environment,” Erdoğan also said on Tuesday.
Sweden has so far extradited only one Turkish national, on August 31, according to a Swedish letter to Turkey leaked to Reuters news agency last month.
“Sweden is committed to dealing promptly and thoroughly… with pending extradition requests from suspected terrorists,” in accordance with Swedish and EU law, the letter adds.
Erdoğan is used to getting his way from judges in Turkey, who have imprisoned thousands of his opponents since the failed coup.
But his designation of people like Keneş as political red lines at summits risks being seen as interference in Sweden’s judicial independence.
Turkish nationalist media also tracked Keneş and other exiles in Sweden, publishing their private addresses and photos of their homes and cars, or snaps of them walking around Stockholm.
“I’m not stupid. I’m not part of the coup,” Keneş told Swedish news agency SVT Nyheter two weeks ago.
“I fear that the negotiations between the newly formed Swedish government and the Islamofascist and despotic regime of Erdoğan will affect the extradition decision,” Keneş added, as he awaited his hearing in the extradition court.
For his part, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson promised to play ball during Tuesday’s friendly press conference with Erdoğan, but did not comment on specific names.
“I want to reassure all Turks: Sweden will respect all the obligations made to Turkey in the fight against the terrorist threat before becoming a member of NATO and as a future ally,” Kristersson said.
Its foreign minister, Tobias Billström, also told the press last weekend that Sweden would keep “its distance” from two Kurdish groups in Syria, the YPG and the PYD, because too close relations were “damaging our relations with Turkey.
Sweden’s right-wing government came to power in elections in September.
The former Social Democratic government criticized Kristersson’s approach to the NATO process, calling it “worrying and acquiescent” towards Turkey.
A YPG spokesperson also told Swedish media over the weekend that it would consider sending Swedish foreign fighters back from its detention camps in northern Syria, in a further backlash.
“Why should we deal with Swedish terrorists?” the YPG spokesperson told Swedish channel TV4. “Why should we do this when you are walking away from an organization that fights terrorism and pays a lot of money?” he asked.
A spokeswoman for the PYD group in Syria told Reuters: “We believe that the Swedish government’s submission to Turkish blackmail contradicts the principles and morals of Swedish society and the humanitarian attitudes that characterize Sweden.”
Turkey’s president must emerge as a strongman on the European stage and satisfy nationalist sentiment by attacking the Kurds ahead of next June’s elections, an EU diplomat previously told EUobserver.
But Erdoğan’s needs aside, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán also leaves Sweden and Finland uncertain about ratification.
Orbán’s Fidesz party on Tuesday rejected an opposition motion to put the issue to a vote this week.
If this is not done by December 6, it will be postponed to February 2023 due to the parliamentary agenda, Ágnes Vadai, an MP from the Hungarian opposition Democratic Coalition party, told this website.
There were several potential reasons for Orbán’s delay, she said.
On the one hand, Hungarians are currently more gripped by double-digit inflation than by NATO enlargement, she noted.
But Orbán is also suspected of playing political games with the NATO process.
“I think they [Fidesz] want to blackmail Finland and Sweden for EU money,” Vadai said, referring to Hungary’s clash with the European Commission, which withheld funds from Budapest over the abuse of ‘Orbán of the rule of law.
They also have “a deal with Ankara not to rush,” Vadai said, with Erdoğan and Orbán expected to gain influence by acting together.