It had to be a fait accompli. Three months after Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his forces to Ukraine, the governments of Finland and Sweden formally applied for NATO membership on 18 May as a cover against future Russian military aggression.
President Biden immediately signaled his approval, saying that the expansion of the alliance would “make NATO stronger” and a month earlier, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Putin’s longtime ally, told Finnish President Sauli. Niinistö who had no problems with enlargement.
But Erdogan “can change 180 degrees in a second without looking back,” Cengiz Çandar, senior research associate at the Swedish Institute for International Affairs, told Yahoo News. On May 19, Erdogan did just that, announcing that Turkey would block accelerated NATO membership for Finland and Sweden, which requires unanimous support from member states, on his claim that the two nations are “hosts of terrorist organizations” .
Former State Department diplomat Elizabeth Shackelford, now a researcher at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, told Yahoo News the move was “classic Erdogan,” adding that “he will not give up the opportunity to use leverage. , and what better place to do it than in an alliance based on the unanimity of decisions? “
Erdogan’s demands focus mainly on the extradition of Turkish enemies, such as members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) labeled as terrorist, which Turkey has been fighting for 38 years, and followers of the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who according to him c ‘was behind a 2016 coup attempt to oust him. Finland extradited two of 10 people on Turkey’s list and is reportedly considering seven more, while Sweden has passed a new counter-terrorism law. But Turkey is still not satisfied and has insisted on the extradition of others for crimes, including public criticism of Erdogan.
“To try to fully satisfy all of Turkey’s demands, Sweden would have to transform itself into a kind of alternative authoritarian police state,” Paul Levin, director of the Institute of Turkish Studies at Stockholm University, told Yahoo News.
Finnish analysts share the sentiment. “Most of the requests are impossible to satisfy, like extraditing a person just because she used a Bylock [encrypted] application or wrote a comment on Facebook critical of President Erdogan, “Toni Alaranta, senior researcher at the Finnish Institute for International Affairs, told Balkan Insight.
“Many Kurds in Sweden are concerned that Sweden will sacrifice them on the altar of NATO membership,” Levin said. While Stockholm plans to make concessions, he said, it’s a tightrope act. If leaders concede too much, “the Swedish government risks being accused of sacrificing long-standing principles” such as support for the Kurdish cause and civil liberties “or simply being seen generally as a yielding to an authoritarian regime that is making demands. unacceptable – which, frankly, I think is popular opinion here in Sweden. “
So far, Turkey has directed most of its criticism on Sweden, which has a larger and more politically mobilized Kurdish population of 100,000, leading some Finns to question the wisdom of the two countries’ decision to jointly apply for membership. BORN.
“It is entirely conceivable that Turkey could, for a variety of reasons, say yes to Finland but for now no to Sweden,” Charly Salonius-Pasternak, senior researcher at the Finish Institute of International Affairs, told Euronews last week. .
He clarified his position this week in an email to Yahoo News. “I didn’t say that Finland should go it alone, rather, that it was not good – OK, potentially catastrophic – that the Finnish president said so clearly that we would. [apply] hand in hand, ”wrote Salonius-Pasternak. “I think it would be better for Finland and Sweden to join, but giving so much power to everyone else seems a bit shortsighted.”
Were it not for opposition from Turkey, Finland and Sweden would be well on their way to joining the alliance at next week’s NATO summit in Madrid. Now it is a question of guessing whether Erdogan will ever be satisfied.
“There is concern about the dangerous period of the gray zone in which we appear to be stuck,” Levin said, noting that Moscow now knows their plans. but NATO’s Article 5 security guarantee – that an attack on one member is an attack on all – does not yet apply.
Former Defense Department official Evelyn Farkas, now executive director of the McCain Institute think tank, told Yahoo News that the delay posed a “real danger. [that] puts the security of Europe and millions of people at risk ”.
By making Nordic leaders jump through hoops, Erdogan is carrying out Putin’s orders, Çandar said.
“We recall that when we first heard the speculation about the Swedish and Finnish candidacy for NATO, Putin was very threatening and menacing,” Çandar noted. “But since Erdogan intervened, have you heard Putin talking about the inclusion of Sweden and Finland in NATO? Erdogan is doing his job. “
But despite all the attention paid to Erdogan’s demands on the alleged terrorists, other factors are at work, analysts say, including his anger over a hunt deal between the United States and Turkey that fell apart.
Turkey has committed $ 1.4 billion to purchase four high-tech F-35 jets. In 2019, however, ignoring warnings from U.S. officials, Erdogan bought a Russian air defense system and the Trump White House promptly refused to deliver the four planes or return the $ 1.4 billion down payment. Turkey recently demanded that the money be used to upgrade its F-16s, a move approved by the Biden administration but which has so far not received the necessary congressional approval. Erdogan’s lawsuit was not helped when Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, another enemy of Turkey, flew to Washington this month to make a high-profile appeal to Congress not to approve Erdogan’s F-16 demands and yes is offered to take the four undelivered F-16 35s.
In response, Erdogan announced that “from now on, there is no longer anyone named Mitsotakis for me” and canceled bilateral talks with him.
Another of Erdogan’s apparent motivations for taking a step back on Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership, however, is domestic politics, Çandar said. Faced with next year’s elections in a country where inflation is skyrocketing, Erdogan’s popularity is plummeting.
“Official government figures put inflation at 70 percent,” said Çandar, who added it is probably “closer to 100 percent.” By blocking the entry of Sweden and Finland, Erdogan has captured international attention. “Now everyone in the world is talking about the conditions in Turkey and the security of Turkey,” he said, adding that for Erdogan it is a form of “image building”.
To be sure, there is growing concern among NATO members about Erdogan’s continuing theatrical performances, Anna Wieslander, director for Northern Europe at the Atlantic Council, told Yahoo News. The point of view among NATO members, she said, has always been “it is better to have Turkey inside NATO than outside NATO because of its strategic value as a window to the Middle East”. But tensions between Turkey and the United States are mounting, she said, pointing to the sour F-35 affair and the fact that cleric Gulen lives in the United States, who refuses to extradite him to Turkey. “The level of trust” between Washington and Ankara “is not really there,” which puts the alliance to the test, she added.
Farkas suggested that NATO allies continue to work with Turkey to resolve the issue, but that they impose a deadline to coincide with next week’s summit.
“If the deadline expires and Turkey continues to block Sweden and Finland, all concessions, including arms sales from the United States, should expire,” Farkas said. “This is probably the only way to act on this – and it is in the interest of the international community that this accession can proceed.”