Why does Turkey want to block Finland and Sweden from NATO?

The Turkish government’s assertion that it has difficulty agreeing to NATO membership for Finland and Sweden has raised concern in Helsinki and Stockholm. This week, the two countries submitted a historic request to join the Atlantic Alliance.

The 30 members of the military alliance must agree to admit new members. But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has described Finland and Sweden as an “incubator” for terrorist groups. At the same time, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said both countries should provide explicit security guarantees and lift bans on exporting certain defense sector goods to Turkey.

“Our position is completely open and clear. It’s not a threat – it’s not a negotiation where we try to take advantage of our interests,” Çavuşoğlu said.

The leader of a Turkish nationalist party also spoke out, saying NATO expansion to Sweden and Finland would provoke Russia and cause an extension of the war in Ukraine. Devlet Bahceli urged Turkish lawmakers to keep the two countries in the “NATO waiting room”.

The PKK as a “central national security problem”

Several NATO members have sought to downplay Turkish threats – and the Finns have shown characteristic diplomacy in seeking an amicable solution to any possible stalemate.

In this context, what is behind the Turkish threats, and what is Erdoğan’s “possible game”?

Speaking to Euronews, Paul Levin, director and founder of the University Institute of Turkish Studies in Stockholm, said Turkey’s main concern was the presence of PKK militants in Sweden.

“What Turkey sees as a threat from the PKK is its primary national security concern. Sweden doesn’t share exactly the same view on this threat,” Levin said. “It’s a kind of natural opportunity, at a time when Sweden wants to join NATO, for Turkey to declare its position,” he defends himself. Paul Levin recalls that there are internal considerations for Erdoğan ahead of the summer 2023 elections. “Erdoğan is not doing well in the polls. He seems to be losing. This could also apply to a wider Turkish public” , he adds.

Although there is a large Kurdish diaspora in Sweden and other Nordic countries, the PKK has been classified as a terrorist organization in Sweden and is not allowed to operate freely. Thus, the consequences of Erdoğan’s insistence on suppressing “Kurdish militants” are unclear.

Syrian Kurdish militias People’s Protection Units (YPG)

Sinan Ülgen, a former Turkish diplomat and director of the Istanbul Center for Economic Studies and Foreign Policy, says he does not believe Turkey will, in fact, block Sweden and Finland from joining, but will maybe draw a prize for agreeing to let them join. NATO. “In my opinion, Turkey has legitimate demands. For example, Sweden should lift the arms embargo against Turkey. It is unreasonable for one NATO country to impose an arms embargo on another ally within the same alliance,” he told Euronews.

It’s a point that Paul Levin also raises, noting that Turkey wants F-16s and to be allowed access to the “invisible” F-35 fighter again.

Ülgen also believes that the Turks will ask Sweden to be more active against the PKK and “to stop supplying weapons and funding to the YPG”.

Both Paul Levin and Sinan Ülgen believe there will be some form of negotiation between the three countries and possibly other NATO members as well, although Erdoğan said it makes no sense for teams of diplomats from Finland and Sweden travel to Turkey for discussions.

Former White House official and US diplomat Matthew Bryza says Turkey understands the strategic importance of wanting to bring Finland and Sweden into NATO – but argues Ankara is right to seize a golden opportunity to bring global attention to a subject that is very dear to him. “It would be unwise to underestimate the anger of the Turkish government and the Turkish people that an organization recognized by the EU itself as a terrorist, the PKK, has taken refuge in Sweden and Finland,” he said. he told Euronews. . Matthew Bryza says that Turkey is looking for concessions and that “it is absolutely clear in Ankara that the entry of Sweden and Finland into NATO is of deep strategic and historical importance for the whole of Europe. alliance”. Matthew Bryza thinks Turkey will want to find a way to say yes.”

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