NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg with the President of Turkey Erdogan back in 2016 (source: Flickr)
Turkey has lifted its objections over Finland and Sweden’s admission into NATO after the three nations signed a memorandum of understanding on Tuesday, June 28. It appears that Sweden and Finland have made some sensitive concessions to Turkey. Also, the US appears to have shifted regarded sanctioning Turkey from important arms sales. The outcome of negotiations is regarded as a victory for President Erdogan ahead of some domestic challenges towards 2023 Turkish general elections.
Turkey raised a blockade over Finland and Sweden’s bid over various issues, mainly regarding support by the Scandinavian countries to Kurdish groups that operate in Turkey’s south. Sweden and Finland have now agreed to stop supporting YPG, a Kurdish militia in Syria, which Erdogan claims is linked to the PKK. While the PKK is designated as a terrorist organization by the US and EU, among others, YPG is not.
Also, Sweden and Finland have promised not to support the Gülen movement, which Erdogan links to a failed coup attempt in 2016. Both countries will co-operate on “cracking down on PKK activities” and will enter an agreement on extradition of terror suspects. The clause regarding extradition is most controversial in Finland and Sweden – however, extradition will remain in line with European treaties. Lastly, Sweden and Finland will lift their arms embargo against Turkey.
US arms sale
However, another important factor seems to have played into Turkey’s veto lift, namely weapons. On the June 29 NATO summit, Erdogan will discuss a F-16 fighter jet sale with US President Biden. In December 2020, the US sanctioned Turkey and removed it from the F-35 program when Ankara acquired Russian S-400 air defense systems. Re-admission into the US fighter jet program is important for Erdogan, as he cherishes larger military ambitions in the region, in particular towards Kurdish groups in Northern Syria and Iraq. A US lift of its arms sale sanctions towards Turkey is therefore controversial, but might have been crucial in meeting Turkey’s demands.
An agreement between Sweden, Finland and Turkey was expected, as all countries benefit from the NATO enlargement. Sweden and Finland want to join the alliance swiftly as Russia demonstrated military aggression in Ukraine. NATO in general wants to strengthen its position in the region, as the Baltic States feel threatened and security around the Baltic Sea is set to be updated.
Meanwhile, Erdogan is working towards crucial June 2023 elections in Turkey. In latest years, Erdogan has diverted Turkey from a pro-western path by solidifying his one-man rule - ignoring European Court of Human Rights’ rulings and cracking down on opposition and civil society. Erdogan’s administration is increasingly under pressure as the economy falters due to a controversial governmental policy that spurs a high inflation. In opinion polls, oppositional parties seems to be in reach of ousting Erdogan at the June 2023 elections.
The deal with Sweden and Finland will give him additional legitimacy towards banning vulnerable pro-Kurdish opposition parties, such as the People’s Democratic Party (HDP). Erdogan has linked the HDP to the PKK and plans to outlaw it before the next elections.
For NATO countries, Erdogan’s policies in Turkey remain worrisome. However, keeping the country inside an updated security framework with Sweden and Finland seems a priority amid Russian aggression in Europe.