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Why Turkey doesn’t want Sweden and Finland to join NATO?

Sweden and Finland recently announced their wish to join NATO following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Turkey has taken a hard stance against the Nordic expansion of the transatlantic military alliance, bringing the bid to a halt. A few days ago, Sweden announced that delegations from both countries would visit Turkey and try to change its mind. However, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded that they “should not bother” travelling to Turkey unless they are ready to meet some demands.

For the 2 Nordic nations to successfully join the alliance, all 30 NATO members must unanimously agree. Turkey and Greece became members of NATO together during the alliance’s second expansion in 1952, within 3 years after its establishment. The second-largest military in the NATO dished out longstanding grievances against the West and made some demands before it could support Finland and Sweden’s bid to join NATO.

Turkey Accuses Sweden and Finland of Harboring Terrorists

Erdogan accused Sweden and Finland of being “guesthouses” for terrorists. He said neither of these countries had a “clear and open attitude” towards terrorist organizations. It was a reference to Kurdistan’s Workers Party (PKK), which Turkey deemed, along with other Kurdish groups, “terrorist groups”. PKK is a separatist militant group fighting for an independent state in Turkey for decades. Apart from Turkey, the US and EU also designated it a terrorist group.

Turkey said that Finland and Sweden failed to extradite some suspects it wanted. It accused those suspects of having links with PKK and Gulen movement, which it believed staged a coup in 2016 that killed more than 250 people.

Turkey also criticized Sweden for issuing arms sanctions in 2019 over its “military operation” in Syria. It demanded to lift the embargo if the 2 Nordic nations wanted its approval to join NATO. Turkey has led multiple cross-border operations in Syria since 2016 against ISIS and Kurdish fighters. Large parts of Syrian territory are under Turkish control, and several NGOs have accused it of forcing out locals.

Relationship with the US

Several elements within Turkey were confident that there was another reason for Turkey to block Finland and Sweden’s bid. A professor at Kultur University said that Erdogan was also using this bid as “leverage” to fix its issues with the US. Turkey has been upset about how the US denied giving it F-35 Stealth jets. Relations between the US and Turkey have strained mainly due to the former purchasing the Russian S-400 defence system. As soon as Russia delivered the weapons in 2019, the US removed Turkey from its F-35 program.

The West feared that a NATO member using a Russian defence system was dangerous for NATO’s own systems of similar nature. On the other hand, Turkey claimed that it made a deal with Russia after former President Barack Obama stalled selling the US Patriot air defence system, which most NATO use. Turkey also slammed the US for supporting and arming Kurdish groups in Syria. The US claimed to recognize PKK as a “terrorist organization” but continued to support (politically and militarily) one of its branches, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Turkey Has Never Disagreed with NATO Before

Historically Turkey has never opposed NATO expansion which is why critics are confident that there will eventually be a compromise in the case of Sweden and Finland. Turkey may not be able to get exactly what it wants, but the West will undoubtedly make an offer it can’t refuse.

It is not the first diplomatic deadlock over NATO expansion. Previously, Greece also halted Macedonia’s entry over its name, which was similar to one of its region’s names. It accused Macedonia of stealing Greek heritage by having the same name. Ultimately, both nations resolved the decade-old dispute by signing the Prespa Accord in June 2018. Macedonia changed its name to the Republic of North Macedonia in 2019.

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