STOCKHOLM ( Associated Press) – Complicating Sweden and Finland’s historic bid to join NATO on Monday, Turkey’s president said he could not allow them to join the coalition because of their alleged inaction against exiled Kurdish militants.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan doubled down on the comments last week, indicating that the two Nordic countries’ path to NATO will be anything but smooth. All 30 existing NATO countries must agree to open doors for new members.
Erdogan spoke to reporters just hours after Sweden joined Finland, announcing that he would seek NATO membership in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, ending more than 200 years of military nonalignment. He accused both countries of refusing to extradite the “terrorists” wanted by their country.
“No country has an open, clear stance against terrorist organizations,” Erdogan said in an apparent reference to Kurdish terrorist groups such as the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK.
Swedish officials said they would send a team of diplomats to Ankara to discuss the matter, but Erdogan suggested they were wasting their time.
“Are they coming to explain and explain to us? “Sorry, don’t tire yourself out,” said Erdogan. “During this process, we cannot say ‘yes’ to those imposing sanctions on Turkey for joining NATO, which is a security organization.”
Sweden has welcomed hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East in recent decades, including ethnic Kurds from Syria, Iraq and Turkey.
Turkey’s objections surprised many Western officials, and some believed that Ankara would not allow the issue to worsen NATO expansion. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said over the weekend: “Turkey has made it clear that they do not intend to block membership.”
Sweden’s ambassador to Washington, Karin Olofsdotter, was among those who said she was shocked by Turkey’s objections.
“We have a very strong counter-terrorism agenda and a lot of, almost, the allegations that are coming out … are simply not true,” she said.
Sweden on Monday decided to join NATO, a day after the country’s governing Social Democratic Party backed the country’s plan to join the Trans-Atlantic Alliance and Finland’s government announced it would join NATO. wants.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson warned the Nordic country would be in a “vulnerable position” during the application period and urged its fellow citizens to prepare themselves for the Russian response.
“Russia has said it will retaliate if we join NATO,” she said. “We cannot rule out that Sweden, for example, will be exposed to propaganda and attempts to intimidate and divide us.”
Moscow has repeatedly warned Finland, which shares a 1,340-kilometre (830 mi) border with Russia, and that Sweden should face consequences if it pursues NATO membership. But Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday appeared to underestimate the importance of his move.
Speaking to the Russian-led military coalition of six former Soviet states, Putin said Moscow had “no problem” with Sweden or Finland applying for NATO membership, but that “the expansion of military infrastructure in the region, Will certainly give rise to our reaction in response.
Andersen, who leads the centre-left Social Democrats, said Sweden would submit its NATO application jointly with Finland. Backed by opposition leader Ulf Christerson, Andersen said his government was also preparing a bill that would allow Sweden to receive military aid from other countries in case of an attack.
“The Russian leadership thought they could threaten Ukraine and deny them and other countries self-determination.” “They thought they could scare Sweden and Finland and drive a wedge between us and our neighbors and allies. They were wrong.”
Once a regional military power, Sweden has avoided military alliances since the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Like Finland, it remained neutral throughout the Cold War, but became close with NATO after the 1991 Soviet collapse. They no longer see themselves as neutral after joining the European Union in 1995, but have remained militarily non-aligned.
After remaining strongly against NATO membership for decades, public opinion in both countries changed after Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, with a record level of support for joining the alliance. The Swedish and Finnish governments quickly began discussions among political parties about NATO membership and reached out to the US, UK, Germany and other NATO countries for their support.
On Sunday, Andersen’s party reversed its long-standing position that Sweden should remain non-aligned, overwhelming support for NATO membership in parliament. Only smaller Left and Green parties objected to the issue being discussed by MPs on Monday.
Left-wing leader Nushi Ddgostar, whose call for a referendum on the matter was rejected by the government, said joining NATO would increase tensions in the Baltic Sea region.
“It doesn’t help Ukraine,” she said.
Andersen said Sweden would make clear that it did not want nuclear weapons or permanent NATO bases on its soil – similar circumstances to neighboring Norway and Denmark that insisted on the formation of a coalition after World War II.
During a visit to Helsinki on Monday, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said there is “very significant” support in Congress to welcome Finland and Sweden to the coalition and he expects ratification before the August recess.
In a joint statement, Nordic NATO members Norway, Denmark and Iceland said they stand ready to assist Finland and Sweden “with all necessary means” during the application process.
Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, Suzanne Fraser in Ankara, Turkey and Ellen Nichmeyer in Washington, DC contributed to this report.
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