Turkey rejects Finland’s intention to join NATO

Turkey rejected Finland’s bid to join NATO, paving the way for the military alliance to extend its direct border with Russia, but neighboring Sweden is still fighting to get its bid approved.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has informed his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto that he will instruct the parliament to ratify Finland’s NATO accession.

“We decided to start the process of approving the Finnish protocol in the parliament because of the sensitivity and progress made towards easing the security concerns of our country,” Erdoğan said after meeting with Niinisto in Ankara on Friday.

While agreeing to Finland’s offer, Erdoğan remained opposed to Sweden joining the alliance. The two countries applied together but are now joining separately after 10 months of wrangling over claims Sweden failed to address Turkey’s concerns.

“My feeling is that Finland’s NATO membership is not complete without Sweden,” Niinistö said, adding that he hoped the remaining hurdles would be cleared by NATO’s July summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Tobias Billström, Sweden’s foreign minister, said: “This is a development we did not want, but we prepared for it.”

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Finland and Sweden ended a decades-long standoff to jointly apply to join NATO after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year raised concerns about security in the northern region. While most NATO members approved the pair’s joint bid, Turkey and Hungary, both of which maintain ties to Russia, sought concessions in political discussions with the bidders.

NATO has expressed greater concern over Turkey’s stance, particularly over allegations that Sweden supports Kurdish militants considered terrorists by Ankara and harbors members of an Islamist network accused of trying to overthrow Erdoğan in a failed coup in 2016. Human rights groups have criticized Turkey for its treatment of Kurds and other political dissidents.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday: “It is completely inconceivable that any military threat could threaten Finland or Sweden without a NATO response.” Erdoğan told Stoltenberg that Turkey would continue negotiations with Sweden “in good faith”.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan urged Turkey to move forward with Sweden’s accession protocols. He also urged Hungary to proceed with the requests of both Finland and Sweden.

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“Sweden and Finland are both strong, capable partners who share NATO values, strengthen the alliance and contribute to Europe’s security,” he said.

NATO officials argue that the decision to admit Finland and Sweden to the military alliance has already been made, and now it is up to Turkey and Hungary to ratify their membership. The Hungarian parliament is expected to ratify Finland’s request on March 27, but no date has yet been set for the approval of Sweden’s application.

Turkey, which has NATO’s second-largest military, suspended talks with Sweden in January after a far-right activist burned the Koran, Islam’s holy book. Stockholm insists it has fulfilled its part of the agreement reached with Turkey at last year’s NATO summit in Madrid, including a new anti-terror law that its parliament is expected to pass soon.

Erdoğan’s tough stance is playing well with nationalist voters ahead of the May elections, which are expected to be his biggest challenge in two decades. The government’s response to last month’s devastating earthquake and the cost-of-living crisis have taken the ruling party’s support to a historic low.

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Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said this week that he hoped Ankara would ratify the country’s accession quickly after the Turkish elections.

“Swedish and Finnish vote distribution. . . it allows Turkey to demonstrate that it is not following Russia’s orders and is not opposed to enlargement per se,” said Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, a fellow at the Washington-based think tank Brookings Institution.

The delays have strained relations with NATO, and the United States has indicated that the delivery of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey is linked to approval of the Nordic countries’ request.

“Turkey wants some kind of guarantee that it will get the F-16s if it ratifies the requests of Sweden and Finland,” Aydıntaşbaş said. “The problem is that the Turkish public is so upset [against Sweden]it makes it difficult to back down.”

Further reporting by Funja Güler in Ankara, Marton Dunai in Budapest and Felicia Schwartz in Washington

Source: https://www.ft.com/content/0e6be021-6471-4b30-ba72-33fc9fa6ccd5