Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been busy at a NATO summit in Lithuania, surprising observers after reversing course and approving Sweden’s long-awaited bid to join the military bloc.
At a press conference late on Wednesday following the summit in the capital of Vilnius, Erdogan touched on several issues for Turkey, including ratifying Sweden’s NATO bid, its F-16 jet defence deal with the United States, and the balancing act it continues to play between Russia and Ukraine.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
Turkey is forging new paths in Europe, also resuming talks with Greece, the two announced on the same day, after more than a year of tensions between the historic foes.
Erodgan’s NATO play is ahead of his visit to the Gulf countries next week, a trip the leader is taking in part to drum up foreign funding to boost Turkey’s strained economy after his re-election in May.
Ratifying Sweden’s NATO bid
The Turkish leader said that he will forward the ratification of Sweden’s NATO bid to parliament when it reopens from October, with Stockholm to provide a road map of the steps it will take before the ratification is sent.
Ankara’s approval came as Sweden pledged support for updating Turkey’s customs agreement with the European Union and its desire to have visa-free travel throughout the EU for its citizens.
Erdogan also expects that Stockholm will take steps against members of a group its considers terrorists, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
“When it reopens, I believe our parliament speaker will bring this forward among international agreements. The primary place of approval is the parliament, then it will come to me for approval,” Erdogan said.
In addition, the leader will hold talks with a nationalist parliamentary ally of his Justice and Development (AK) Party, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which expressed dismay at the news of approving Sweden’s bid.
Jets for joining
Hours after Ankara said it would allow Stockholm into the bloc, the US said it will proceed with the transfer of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, the likely trade-off for Ankara’s green light.
At Wednesday’s news conference, Erdogan said he was “more hopeful than ever” for the purchase of the jets, while US President Joe Biden also on Wednesday expressed confidence that the deal will go ahead.
Turkey has long sought to buy the warplanes in a bid to update its existing fleet, alongside modernisation kits.
Erdogan also commented on the release of former commanders of Ukraine’s garrison in Mariupol, which it helped facilitate, saying Russia’s initial negative reaction had changed.
“First, there were some statements from Russia but afterwards when they learned about some circumstances, the situation entered a positive track,” Erdogan said at the press conference.
Russia reacted with scorn over Turkey’s role in brokering the release of the five commanders, saying it violated the terms of a prisoner exchange deal engineered last year.
Erdogan also said at the conference that Turkey could act as a mediator between Moscow and Kyiv to end the invasion of Ukraine that began in February last year.
However, Russian President Vladimir Putin currently has no plans to speak with Ankara’s leader, according to Russia’s TASS news agency, which cited the Kremlin spokesman.
On Saturday, commenting on another country’s bid to join the defence pact, Erdogan said Ukraine “deserved” NATO membership.