Ankara suspends membership of Sweden and Finland in NATO

Flags of NATO, Turkey, Sweden and Finland. Illustrative photo by Reuters

Turkey on Tuesday stopped Sweden and Finland from joining NATO, postponing indefinitely a trilateral meeting originally scheduled for early February to overcome Ankara’s objections to their candidacy.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned on Monday that Sweden, already accused by Turkey of harboring Kurdish “terrorists”, could no longer count on Ankara’s “support” after a far-right activist burned a copy of the Quran in Stockholm. A diplomatic source in Ankara specified that this was “postponing the meeting to a later date.”

Sweden expressed concern about the “serious situation”, saying it wanted to “renew dialogue” with Turkey as soon as possible.

NATO membership is “vital” for Sweden, said Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, denouncing the actions of “provocateurs” seeking to undermine Sweden’s candidacy.

Faced with Mr. Erdogan’s warning, Finland on Tuesday opened the door for NATO membership without Sweden for the first time, while reiterating that joint membership of the two Nordic countries remains “the first option and the only one currently under consideration.” But “we obviously have to assess the situation if something happened, which means that in the long term Sweden can no longer move forward,” Finnish diplomacy chief Pekka Haavisto said on public television Yle.

Before the Turkish elections

“We understand the frustration many in Finland are currently feeling about not being a member of NATO yet, but we are focused on a very clear message that Finland still wants to join us at the same time as Sweden,” Mr. Kristersson responded. .

The burning of the Quran by an anti-Islamic right-wing extremist on Saturday outside the Turkish embassy in Sweden sparked strong protests from Ankara and several Muslim capitals, which had already canceled an announced visit by the Swedish defense minister on Saturday.

Stockholm deplored the “extremely disrespectful” act and expressed “sympathy” for the Muslims, stressing that the Swedish constitution prevents such acts from being banned, but does not quell Turkey’s anger.

These protests are “an obstacle” to the nomination of candidates for NATO membership, and “the protesters are playing with the security of Finland and Sweden,” Mr. Haavisto lamented on Tuesday. “My own conclusion is that there will be a delay (green light for Turkey) that will certainly last until the Turkish elections in mid-May,” he admitted.

A pro-Kurdish demonstration with many flags of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), pursued by Ankara, also took place in downtown Stockholm on Saturday.

In mid-January, a support group for Kurdish militias in Syria, the Rojava Committee, hung a mannequin of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in front of Stockholm City Hall, sparking outrage in Ankara despite condemnation from the Swedish government.

Plan b

Unlike Sweden, Turkey has said in recent months that it has no serious objections to Finland joining NATO. Like the Alliance’s 30 members, Ankara must ratify the entry of any new member and therefore has veto power. Only Turkey and Hungary, which claim they don’t want to block them, have yet to ratify the two memberships.

Helsinki has so far refused to speculate on joining without Sweden, pointing to the benefits of joint membership with its very close neighbour.

“There is a change: from now on, Plan B is being voiced out loud,” emphasizes Matti Pesu, a defense expert at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA). “I think the heads of government considered several scenarios, but until now it was considered important to stick to a single line, and it was not necessarily wise to say that Finland is considering leaving without Sweden,” he analyzes.

In May, the two Scandinavian countries submitted their candidacies for NATO headquarters in Brussels on the same day, a direct result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine that ended decades of military alliances.

Source: AFP.

Source: L Orient Le Jour

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