why you want to stop Sweden and Finland from joining NATO and what you stand to lose

Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has united the West in opposition. NATO member states cascaded weapons into Ukraine, welcomed Ukrainian refugees and imposed harsh sanctions on Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin cited NATO enlargement as one of the main threats to Russian security that led to the invasion of Ukraine. So the announcement by Sweden and Finland that they would abandon their long-held military neutrality and join NATO is another blow to Russia.

NATO members have generally welcomed this development and the Baltic states, in particular, enthusiastically approved of it. For new NATO members to be accepted, all 30 existing members must agree to accept them. But Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has objections to Sweden and Finland joining the alliance.

President Erdoğan compared the Scandinavian countries to “guesthouses for terrorists”. For some time, Turkey has accused Sweden of harboring supporters of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen. Some critics accuse Gülen of being behind a coup to overthrow Erdoğan, which Gülen denies.

Another issue is Sweden’s suspension of arms sales to Turkey, which began in 2019, due to Turkey’s military incursions into Syria. It also cites Sweden’s failure to extradite 33 suspected members of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist organization by the European Union.

Turkey also has a strong economic relationship with Ukraine. Here Turkish President Recep Erdoğan meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

region anxiety

In addition to its internal agenda, Turkey finds itself in an ambivalent situation at the international level. It has to balance its strategic partnerships with NATO and Ukraine with its difficult but important relations with Russia. Turkey and Russia have some economic and regional cooperation, especially around Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan.

They may be rivals for influence in the region, for example by supporting opposing sides of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. But they share a common interest in economic stability and, possibly, in reducing military conflict.

This is part of the reason why Turkey has been presented as a potential mediator between Russia and Ukraine. Turkey refused to support Russia’s exclusion from the Council of Europe and has also not joined other NATO countries in imposing economic sanctions on Russia. At the same time, he has contributed significantly to Ukraine’s efforts to defend itself and has declared what Russia calls a “special military operation” a war.

Russia has shown increasing strategic assertiveness in recent years, in its February 2014 invasion of Crimea and its major military intervention in Syria. This precipitated a serious crisis in Turkish-Russian relations when Turkey shot down a Russian SU-24 fighter jet that allegedly entered Turkish airspace and Russia imposed sanctions on Turkey. However, Putin and Erdoğan have subsequently mended their relations.

Turkey maintains an important economic relationship with Russia, relying on Russian natural gas. The TurkStream pipeline that began operations in 2020 is an alternative export route for Russian gas through the Black Sea and bypasses Ukraine as a transit country. It has also developed military cooperation between the two. Turkey bought the S-400 air defense system from Russia and has been considering buying Russian military aircraft.

This element of the Turkish-Russian relationship put Erdoğan on a collision course with NATO and has prompted US sanctions against Turkey since the first of the missiles were delivered.

But Turkey is also close to Ukraine. In the run-up to the Russian invasion, Turkey signed a free trade agreement with Ukraine, establishing itself as a key partner.

Turkey is also engaged in significant military cooperation with the country and has established a joint production and training center for Ada-class corvettes, anti-submarine ships and long-range Bayraktar drones. This amounts to a significant transfer of military technology to Ukraine. The boats are an important addition to the Ukrainian navy, while the UAV has already played a significant role on the battlefield, destroying Russian armored vehicles.

Read more: Finland and Sweden’s desire to join NATO shows that Putin has permanently redrawn the map of Europe

Turkey also took several measures that hampered Russia’s operational logistics during its military operations in Syria, such as limiting the passage of Black Sea warships through the Bosporus Strait (as it has done again in Ukraine) and prohibiting the passage of Russian military aircraft across its territory. air space.

As Sweden and Finland moved toward an official application for membership, the United States and other NATO members clearly stated their support for the Scandinavian countries’ accession. Even Russia has softened its earlier opposition which was accompanied by various threats. The United States and Britain have said that while membership applications were in process, Sweden and Finland would receive security guarantees.

Although Erdoğan has rejected visiting delegations from the two countries to discuss membership, Sweden and Finland remain optimistic as Turkey has hinted that it would be open to negotiations. Erdoğan is probably just opportunistic and hoping to seize the moment to extract concessions from the Nordic countries. Significantly, Sweden has already reaffirmed that it considers the PKK to be a terrorist organization.

But if Turkey does not show flexibility, it risks a situation where Sweden and Finland become de facto members of the alliance (enjoying security guarantees without being full members). Meanwhile, Turkey could become more isolated within NATO and risk losing all the political benefits it has gained from its ongoing military support for Ukraine, after years outside the alliance.

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