It was indeed a historic encounter. Never before have the foreign ministers of the NATO countries come together for an extraordinary meeting. But the Russian invasion of Ukraine is challenging the alliance like never before, and with the possible accession of Finland and Sweden in response to the invasion, NATO could experience the greatest expansion in its history. The foreign ministers of Sweden, Finland and Ukraine attended the meeting.
At the beginning, the Deputy Secretary General of NATO, Mircea Geoana, underlined the cohesion of the alliance. “We are united, we are strong and we will help Ukraine win this war,” says Geoana. Russian President Vladimir Putin was obviously surprised by the bravery of the Ukrainian soldiers and the unity of the West. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken sounded similar: “Putin has merely strengthened the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine and NATO is now stronger, more united and more capable of action than ever before.”
However, the message of unity was marred by Turkey’s reluctance to join the Finns and Swedes, who want to give up their previous military alliances in response to Russia’s invasion. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had complained that the two countries had “unfortunately become almost something like a guest house for terrorist organizations”. By that he meant the Kurdish Workers’ Party PKK, which is banned in Turkey, and the organization of the preacher Fetullah Gülen.
Although Erdogan had shown himself willing to talk about accession, his Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke negatively in Berlin. It is “unacceptable and outrageous” that possible new NATO members support the PKK. Ankara also criticizes the fact that several countries have restricted the delivery of armaments to Turkey because of Turkey’s fight against the groups.
“Erdogan is taking advantage of the fact that the West has rediscovered the importance of Turkey since the Russian invasion,” says Semih Idiz, who analyzes Turkish foreign policy for the news portal “Al Monitor”. In fact, Erdogan wants the PKK and its Syrian offshoot YPG to be banned in Finland and Sweden. “But he’s asking a lot,” says Idiz. “I don’t think Turkey would be able to cope with the negative reactions from the West if it maintained its veto. That is why it will probably have to give up resistance for relatively small concessions.”
Still, a Turkish blockade can cause real damage. Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) had already emphasized on the way to the meeting on Sunday that it was important that the Scandinavian accession process did not become “a deadlock”. Accession must be confirmed quickly by all NATO members.
In order to keep the delicate phase between receipt of the application for membership and ratification by the NATO members as short as possible, the federal government will document its approval in a cabinet decision this week and then aim for a special session of the Bundestag to make the decision. On the other hand, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, speaking from Brussels, explained that it had become clear that Turkey had no intention of blocking the accession of the two countries.
The heads of state and government of the alliance could decide on the north expansion at the summit in Madrid in June. Finland’s government officially decided on Sunday to submit the application. Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats also made the same decision on Sunday. The necessary parliamentary votes are expected in both countries in the next few days.