ANKARA, Turkey ( Associated Press) – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has thrown a spanner in the works of Sweden and Finland’s historic decisions to seek NATO membership, declaring that he is in favor of Kurdish militants and other groups because of their alleged support. cannot allow them to join. Ankara says its national security is at risk.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg expressed confidence that the alliance would move to swiftly accept Sweden and Finland. But Erdogan’s announcement shows the two Nordic countries’ road to membership is anything but smooth.
Turkey’s approval is important because the military coalition makes its decisions unanimously. Any of its 30 member states can veto a new member.
Erdogan’s government is expected to use both countries’ membership bids as leverage for concessions and guarantees from their allies.
Here’s a look at the situation in Turkey, what it can achieve and the possible results:
What is Turkey’s problem with membership bids?
Turkey, which has the second largest NATO military, has traditionally supported NATO expansion, believing that the coalition’s “open doors” policy enhances European security. For example, it has spoken in favor of the possibility of Ukraine and Georgia joining.
Erdogan’s objection to Sweden and Finland stemmed from Turkey’s complaints with Stockholm – and to a lesser extent Helsinki’s – alleged support of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, the left-wing extremist group DHKP-C and followers of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. from. Ankara’s claim was behind a failed military coup attempt in 2016.
Many Kurds and other exiles have taken refuge in Sweden over the past decades, as have recently been members of Gülen’s movement. According to Turkish state media, Sweden and Finland have refused the extradition of 33 people wanted by Turkey.
Ankara, which often accuses allies of turning a blind eye to its security concerns, is also angered by the ban on the sale of military equipment to Turkey. These were imposed by EU countries including Sweden and Finland in 2019 following Turkey’s military incursion into northern Syria.
Further justifying his objection, Erdogan says his country does not want to repeat a “mistake” by Ankara, which agreed in 1980 to re-incorporate Greece into NATO’s military structure. He claimed that the action had allowed Greece to “take an attitude against Turkey”. NATO support.
What can Turkey achieve?
Turkey is expected to negotiate a settlement agreement under which the two countries would crack down on the PKK and other groups in return for Turkish support for joining NATO. A key demand is expected to be that they cease any support to the Syrian Kurdish group, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG. The group is a western ally in the fight against the Islamic State group in northern Syria but Turkey sees it as an extension of the PKK.
Erdogan may also seek to use Sweden and Finland’s membership to gain concessions from the United States and other allies. Turkey wants to return to the US-led F-35 fighter jet program – a project that was shelved after the purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense systems. Alternatively, Turkey is looking to buy a new batch of F-16 fighter jets and upgrade its existing fleet.
Other possible demands could include ending an informal ban on military sales to Turkey by the Allies; concessions from EU member states regarding Turkey’s faltering bid to join the bloc; and raised funds to help the country support 3.7 million Syrian refugees.
How does this affect the image of Turkey in the West?
Turkey’s threat of a veto is likely to undermine its position in Washington and throughout NATO, cementing the image of a country that is stifling the expansion of the alliance to its advantage. With this move, Turkey also risks losing credit earned by supplying Ukraine with Bayraktar TB2 armed drones which became an effective weapon against the Russian military.
“There is no scenario under which Turkey is not seen as a mole of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin inside NATO,” said Sonar Cagapte, a Turkish expert at the Washington Institute. “Everybody will forget the objections related to PKK. Everyone will note that Turkey is blocking the expansion of NATO. It will distort the whole (NATO) view of Turkey.”
Cagapte said the Turkish handicap could also undo the “positive momentum” that began in Washington regarding the sale of the F-16. “I can’t see that selling at this stage,” he said.
Is Turkey trying to please Russia?
Turkey has built close ties with both Russia and Ukraine and is trying to balance its ties with both. It has refused to engage in sanctions against Russia – backing Ukraine with drones that helped negate Russia’s air superiority.
“The fact that Erdogan (NATO) is deliberately derailing the process shows that he may be trying to balance Turkey’s strong military support to Kyiv with political support to Russia,” Cagapte said. is.”
A top Turkish politician has also expressed concern that Finland and Sweden’s membership could provoke Russia and spark a war in Ukraine. Devlet Bahseli, leader of a nationalist party affiliated with Erdogan, said the best option would be to keep the two Nordic countries in a “waiting room”.
Could this move help Erdogan’s ratings at home?
Turkey’s leaders are seeing a decline in their domestic support due to a faltering economy, skyrocketing inflation and a living crisis.
The standoff with Western nations over the sentimental issue of alleged support for the PKK could help Erdogan to increase his support and rally nationalist votes ahead of elections which are currently scheduled for June 2023.
“At a time when Turkey is entering a critical election cycle, with domestic support dwindling, Erdogan is seeking a higher international profile to demonstrate to Turkish voters his global importance,” analyst Real Aydintasbas wrote in an article published in the European Council on Foreign Relations. ,