Turkey has given up its opposition to the admission of Sweden and Finland to NATO and will support the invitation to the two Nordic countries to join the alliance during the NATO summit in Madrid, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö announced on Tuesday evening. A corresponding memorandum was signed by the foreign ministers of the three countries after a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The joint memorandum underscores the commitment of Finland, Sweden and Turkey to ensure their full support against threats to each other’s security, the Finnish President said in a statement. “The fact that we are becoming a NATO ally will reinforce this commitment.”
Finland and Sweden are not yet NATO members, but they are close partners in the defense alliance. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, however, sparked intense debates about such membership in the two militarily hitherto non-aligned countries. On May 18, they each applied for admission to NATO – in the hope of being able to go through the procedure as quickly as possible before they finally join.
However, Turkey promptly put a stop to this by being the only NATO member to block the beginning of the admission process. Since decisions in NATO are made according to the principle of consensus and thus not against the resistance of allies, the process has stalled ever since. This was an unexpected setback for the alliance, after all it has been trying to show unity and unity since the beginning of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine.
Ankara justified its blockade with the alleged Swedish and Finnish support of “terrorist organizations” such as the banned Kurdish Workers’ Party PKK, the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG and the Gülen movement – in Stockholm and Helsinki this is rejected. Ankara has demanded the extradition of several people suspected of being terrorists in Turkey.
Erdogan was also concerned with lifting restrictions on arms exports to Turkey. NATO partners such as Germany, but also other EU countries such as Sweden, partially stopped arms deliveries to Turkey in protest against a Turkish offensive against the YPG in northern Syria in 2019. Turkey sees this as an affront, as it sees the deployment in Syria as a necessary step in the fight against terrorism.
Stoltenberg recently tried to mediate between Turkey and the two possible future members. He stressed several times that Turkey’s objections must be taken seriously – apparently this has now been done.
For Finland and Sweden, the NATO issue is a historic step, after all, both countries have traditionally been non-aligned in military terms. Both have long viewed Russia as a threat. In Finland’s case, this also has to do with the fact that the country has a border with Russia that is more than 1,300 kilometers long. No other EU country borders the giant empire over such a long distance.
Originally there was hope that Finland and Sweden could become official NATO members before the end of this year. The dispute with Turkey has raised doubts as to whether this loose schedule will hold up. After the completion of the admission process within NATO, the accession protocols must be ratified by the parliaments in all 30 states, which diplomats estimate should be completed within six to eight months.