Turkey has said it is ready to delay NATO membership for Sweden and Finland for more than a year unless it receives satisfactory assurances that the two Nordic countries are ready to provide their support for Kurdish groups which they consider to be terrorist organisations.
The issue threatens to derail a vital NATO summit due to begin in Madrid on June 29.
Turkey accuses Sweden and Finland of harboring suspected members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and also opposes their 2019 decisions to ban arms exports to Ankara due to the military operations of the Turkey in Syria.
Turkey has launched a public diplomacy offensive to highlight Swedish support for Kurdish groups in northern Syria which it links to the PKK – designated as a terrorist organization in the EU, US and Turkey – and plans to organize a side meeting on the issue at the NATO summit.
“This is a matter of vital national interest, and we are ready to prevent their joining for a year if necessary,” said Akif Çağatay Kılıç, MP from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and chairman of the Turkish party. parliamentary foreign affairs committee. “Turkey is NATO’s second largest army and provides the drones that help Ukraine defend itself. We deserve greater respect.
He said Turkey respects its own duties and responsibilities towards the alliance. ” What are [Sweden and Finland] go do? They harbor terrorist organizations that kill my people, do not respect my borders and pose an existential threat to my country. The only thing we require is that there are no distinctions. A terrorist organization is a terrorist organization.
He denied the crisis was an attempt to fan nationalist flames ahead of a tough election, saying non-Kurdish opposition parties backed President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s position. He also said there were no attempts to barter with the United States over arms deals.
Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary general, hailed Sweden’s efforts to address Turkey’s concerns, but appears to have acknowledged that plans for fast-track membership may now fade away.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson is due to attend the Madrid summit, which is likely to be a divisive spectacle as long as it is about long-term strategic thinking and enlargement. Privately, Western officials admit that Germany, France and the United States do not want Ukraine to dominate the summit, although it is hard to imagine that NATO support for Kyiv would not be not the central question.
On Friday, Sweden tried to appease Turkey by issuing a foreign policy document that stressed the need to fight terrorism and paved the way for Sweden to resume arms exports to Turkey. Sweden imposed restrictions on arms sales in 2019 after the Turkish invasion of northern Syria. Britain has already lifted the sales ban.
The political document stated that Sweden would “contribute to all of NATO’s security, including that of Turkey”. A stricter anti-terrorism law, which is due to come into force on July 1, gives Sweden’s intelligence services greater leeway to monitor the communications of suspected terrorist sympathizers.
Although Turkish demands may vary, officials said they wanted to see specific Kurdish activists deported to Turkey, as well as the dismissal of Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist during a 2011 meeting with the PKK, which been designated as a terrorist organization. in Sweden since 1984.
Ankara would like the two countries to sever ties with the US-backed Syrian Kurdish Autonomous Administration, which Turkey says has a leadership synonymous with the PKK.
Anderson’s room for maneuver is limited, as she is not going to change Sweden’s extradition laws just to satisfy threats coming from the Turkish president, and last week she had to rely on the support of Swedish Kurdish MP and former Peshmerga fighter, Amineh Kakabaveh, to survive a narrow confidence vote. The MP says she received unspecified guarantees in exchange for her vote.
Sweden is home to 100,000 Kurdish refugees.
Turkish diplomats are unhappy with suggestions that he did not object to Swedish membership earlier or that he is being hypocritical on the Kurdish issue because of his support for extremist groups elsewhere in the Middle East.
Finland has fewer problems with Turkey, but has said it is unlikely to pursue a membership application without Sweden.
Finnish media reported that the country received 10 Turkey-related extradition requests between 2019 and 2022. It has granted two of those requests and is processing seven.
While Britain has strong diplomatic relations with Turkey, it has also given security guarantees to the two Nordic countries during the potentially dangerous gray period between their application for NATO membership and when joining fully gives them the protection of the alliance’s collective defence.
In an effort to find a solution, Britain’s Minister for Europe, James Cleverly, is in Turkey this week to meet ministers. Angus Lapsley, director of Euro-Atlantic security at the Foreign Office, said the UK was working night and day to try to resolve the dispute.
Stoltenberg said the Madrid summit was never a deadline.