The Swedish prime minister is trying to persuade Turkey to join NATO

The Swedish prime minister is trying to persuade Turkey to join NATO

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Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson was due to meet President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Tuesday to try at the highest level to persuade Turkey to give up its opposition to Sweden joining NATO.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Sweden and Finland abandoned their long-standing policy of military non-alignment and applied to join the transatlantic alliance in May.

But Turkey has blocked ratification of its offers – which require unanimous approval by the 30 NATO members – and has accused the Nordic nations, and Sweden in particular, of providing a safe haven for outlaw Kurdish fighters, which Ankara calls “terrorists”.

Erdogan – who is seeking re-election next year – is in a position of strength after convincing Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to end the blockade on Ukraine’s grain exports.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg last week tried to strengthen the hand of the new applicants by personally traveling to Ankara to plead their case.

“It is time to welcome Finland and Sweden as full members of NATO. Your accession will make our alliance stronger and our people safer,” he said.

Stoltenberg stressed that Sweden and Finland agreed in June on concessions, including on Turkey’s request to deport or extradite “terror suspects”.

“Finland and Sweden have honored their agreement with Turkey,” Stoltenberg said, adding that bringing them into the fold of NATO was important “to send a clear message to Russia.”

– Kurds and war against IS –

Erdogan has welcomed the progress made in talks since Sweden’s new right-wing government took office in October.

But he reiterated on Friday – for the third time in a month – that his parliament would not formally approve Nordic NATO bids until the two countries took the necessary “steps”.

In particular, Turkey accuses Sweden of being lenient towards the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its Syrian offshoot, the People’s Defense Units (YPG).

The PKK, which has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state for years, is described as a terrorist organization by Ankara and most of its western allies.

But the YPG has been a key player in the US-led military alliance fighting the Islamic State group in Syria.

While Sweden has in the past expressed support for the YPG and its political arm, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), Kristersson’s government appears to be distancing itself.

“There is too close a connection between these organizations and the PKK, which is an EU-listed terrorist organization,” Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said on Saturday.

– Redeeming the NATO Expansion Card –

Despite the changed stance in Stockholm, some analysts believe Turkey’s June 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections could delay Nordic NATO bids.

“The Turkish side will ratify its membership when it thinks it is the best moment to redeem this card,” predicted Ilke Toygur, professor of European geopolitics at Carlos III University in Madrid.

“I expect the pressure to increase in the meantime, (but) I sense that many countries in NATO already expect enlargement to happen next year, maybe even the second half of next year ‘ she told AFP news agency.

“It is widely believed that Turkey is also trying to negotiate other things.

“It could be the F16. It could be about their general relationship with Russia.”

Top US senators have threatened to block the sale of US F16 fighter jets to Ankara if Turkey does not end a row with Greece over sea borders and natural gas deposits in the Mediterranean.

Turkey, which wants to maintain good relations with both Ukraine and Russia, has not joined Western sanctions against Moscow and has acquired a Russian missile defense system while supplying combat drones to Kyiv.

“It remains to be seen whether Erdogan believes he has enough signs of goodwill from Sweden and it is therefore in his political and military interests to declare victory, or whether he believes sticking to the current line serves his re-election campaign said a European diplomatic source.

The source nonetheless said there was still a “reasonable chance” that Turkey’s parliament would ratify Nordic NATO offers before the June 2023 elections.

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