Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said it is not possible for Ankara to support Sweden and Finland joining the transatlantic military alliance in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, signalling a possible hurdle to the two countries’ plans to join the organisation.
Speaking to reporters in Istanbul on Friday, Erdogan said Turkey, which is already part of NATO, did not have “positive views” on the Scandinavian countries’ moves to seek membership, accusing them of being “guesthouses for terrorist organisations”.
“They are even members of the parliament in some countries. It is not possible for us to be in favour,” he said, without providing any further details.
Turkey has repeatedly criticised Sweden and other western European countries for its handling of organisations deemed to be “terrorists” by Ankara, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), as well as the followers of the United States-based Muslim scholar Fethullah Gulen.
Ankara has said Gulenists carried out a coup attempt in 2016. Gulen and his supporters deny the accusation.
Finnish leaders urge NATO bid ‘without delay’
Turkey’s opposition could pose a problem for Sweden and Finland given all 30 NATO allies must unanimously approve a new country becoming part of the US-led alliance.
Erdogan said it had been an error for NATO to admit Greece, with which Ankara is at odds over a host of issues, in 1952 and urged against “similar mistakes” being made now. Turkey also joined NATO in 1952.
His remarks came after Finland’s president and prime minister on Thursday said the country must apply to join the alliance “without delay” – comments which drew the ire of Moscow and saw the Kremlin threaten to retaliate, including with unspecified “military-technical” measures.
Finland, which shares a 1,300-kilometre-long (810-mile-long) border with Russia, is expected to formally announce its decision on Sunday following a meeting of the country’s senior political figures. Sweden is expected to follow suit.
Responding later on Friday to Erdogan’s remarks, Finland’s Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto urged patience and called for a step-by-step approach in response to the Turkish resistance. There was no immediate response from Sweden.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg had said both countries would be welcomed into the organisation quickly should they pursue membership.
Russian opposition to expansion
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has swung political and public opinion in Finland and Sweden in favour of membership as a deterrent against Moscow’s aggression.
The pair are already NATO’s closest partners, sitting in on many meetings, regularly briefed on the situation in Ukraine and taking part in regular military drills with NATO allies. Much of their military equipment is interoperable with NATO allies.
However, they cannot benefit from NATO’s collective defence clause – that an attack on one ally is an attack on all – until they join the alliance.
Were they to join the alliance, it would redraw the geopolitical map of northern Europe and create a largely unbroken ribbon of NATO member states facing Russia from the Arctic to the Black Sea.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly voiced concern about NATO’s waves of expansion in recent decades and earlier this month said he sent Moscow’s troops into Ukraine in response to an alleged military build-up by the alliance in territories adjacent to Russia, among other things.
Turkey has criticised Russia’s invasion, sent armed drones to Ukraine and sought to facilitate peace talks between the sides.
However, Ankara has not backed Western sanctions on Moscow and instead sought to maintain close trade, energy and tourism ties with Russia.