Sweden and Finland’s ascent to NATO membership hit a roadblock Friday.
Turkey’s president said he wouldn’t accept either country joining, claiming they are home to “terrorist organizations.”
All current NATO members must agree to any new nation joining the alliance.
Turkey’s president suggested that he will attempt to stop Sweden and Finland from joining NATO.
Sweden and Finland are soon expected to apply to join the military alliance, a development prompted by Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
But Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said on Friday that he did not support plans for the two countries to eventually become NATO members.
“We are following the developments regarding Sweden and Finland, but we don’t hold positive views,” he said, according to Reuters.
“As Turkey, we don’t want to repeat similar mistakes. Furthermore, Scandinavian countries are guesthouses for terrorist organizations,” Erdogan said.
Turkey has accused Western governments like Sweden of backing terrorists over their support for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The SDF is an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias that was formed in 2015 and has been the West’s primary partner in the fight against ISIS. The dominant fighting force in the SDF is the the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara regards as a terrorist organization. The US government’s support for the SDF in the campaign against ISIS has also generated tensions with Turkey.
Any decision on NATO enlargement requires unanimous agreement from current members, meaning that Turkey failing to approve their entry would halt any application.
Erdogan’s apparent opposition to Finland and Sweden joining NATO is bound to face criticism from other alliance members at a time when Turkey’s relations with the West — particularly the US — are already strained. The Turkish leader’s autocratic leadership style and ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system, has generated a thorny dynamic between Washington and Ankara. President Joe Biden’s formal recognition of the Armenian genocide last year also enraged Erdogan, and Turkey warned that the move created a “deep wound” in relations.
No other NATO members have expressed opposition to Finland and Sweden joining the military alliance. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said both countries would be welcomed into the alliance with open arms.
Finland and Sweden joining NATO would represent one of the more significant consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and would mark a drastic change in policy for both countries.
During the Cold War, Finland and Sweden remained neutral or militarily non-aligned. They became NATO partner countries following the collapse of the Soviet Union, stopping short of pursuing full membership. But Russia’s war in Ukraine prompted a rapid shift toward NATO membership in both countries. Recent polling in Finland and Sweden has shown record levels of support for joining the alliance.
“Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay,” Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin said in a statement on Thursday, adding, “We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken rapidly within the next few days.”
Russia has warned both countries against joining the alliance, threatening a military response.
The UK signed security agreements with both countries earlier this week to boost their defenses against Russia as they inch toward joining NATO. Finland’s president, during a press conference with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday, explicitly blamed Russia over Helsinki’s NATO aspirations. “You caused this — look at the mirror,” Niinisto said.
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