Turkey keeps reservations over Nordics’ NATO bids

Turkey’s objections to Sweden and Finland joining the NATO alliance persist despite diplomatic efforts and are not likely to change until the two Nordic countries refrain from supporting anti-Turkey groups, experts said.

Sweden and Finland formally applied to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) last week following the Russia-Ukraine conflict erupted in February.

NATO allies, except for Turkey, have welcomed the Nordics’ appeal. Turkey, however, citing the Swedish and Finnish ties with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and other anti-Turkey terrorist groups, objected to their entry into the alliance.

Turkey demanded an array of “concrete assurances” from Sweden and Finland earlier this week, including “termination of political support for terrorism”, “elimination of the source of terrorism financing” and “cessation of arms support” to the outlawed PKK and a Syrian Kurdish offshoot.

The demands also called for the lifting of arms sanctions against Turkey and global cooperation against terrorism.

Accession of new member states requires consensus among existing NATO members, and that is where Ankara comes in.

Analysts insist that the Finnish and Swedish approach to the PKK remains key for Turkey’s government.

“The threat of a Turkish veto is real unless the two Scandinavian states cut in some way their ties with Kurdish groups deemed terrorist by Ankara. This is not a bargain but a firm Turkish demand,” Turkish foreign policy analyst Serkan Demirtas told Xinhua.

Ankara has issues with Sweden because Turkish Kurds are a noticeable political presence in the country, and to a lesser extent with Finland, which also supports Kurdish groups, said Demirtas, also the Ankara bureau chief of Turkish Daily News.

Turkey feels that Sweden and Finland have been insensitive to its demands to change their stance on issues that are relevant to Turkey’s national security, Demirtas argued.

He added that Ankara wants written assurances from both nations in order for their membership application to make progress.

A joint Swedish-Finnish delegation held talks in Ankara on Wednesday with Turkish officials and diplomats without any tangible results.

Following discussions, Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin told reporters that his country would not give Finland and Sweden the go-ahead in NATO until Turkey’s “concrete” security concerns regarding terrorism and sanctions are met.

“If Sweden and Finland move to address Turkey’s concerns at the basic level, Turkey will likely remove all objections,” said Ankara-based foreign policy analyst Batu Coskun.

“Ankara is bent on turning this instance of NATO expansion into an opportunity to get traction for its own security agenda, and could very well be successful in doing so,” he said to Xinhua.

Coskun stressed that Turkey’s position does not have support from other member states and could lead to public spats if the process stretches on, adding that a potential veto may harm Ankara’s image in the West.

While Turkey has a track record of supporting NATO expansion, Ankara also had tensions with the United States and other allies on its rapprochement with Russia.

Another key factor is lingering tension between Turkey and the United States over fighter jet purchases, which the Turkish media said may be resolved if Ankara lifted its opposition to the Nordic expansion.

Kicked out of the F-35 fighter jet program by Washington for purchasing Russian S-400 missiles, Ankara sought to buy more F-16 jets, but the request has been pending for months with the Joe Biden administration and U.S. Congress.

Meanwhile, experts also caution against pressuring Ankara to lift its reservations in the western military alliance.

“Considering Turkey’s geostrategic location and its military power, Western countries need to calculate the cost of alienating Ankara,” said Muhittin Ataman, professor of international relations at Ankara’s Social Science University.

“Suddenly, governments and public opinions of almost all Western countries have begun to discuss Turkey’s objection against the membership of Stockholm and Helsinki,” he noted.

Ataman warned that the longer Western powers alienate Ankara politically and militarily, it is more likely NATO will lose its relevancy, not only for Turkey but also for many European countries in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine crisis. ■

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