Photo: NATO Meeting on March 16, 2022 with Finland and Sweden. Left to right: Antti Kaikkonen (Minister of Defence, Finland) with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Peter Hultqvist (Minister of Defence, Sweden) - Source: Flickr
Hours after both Finland and Sweden restated their commitment to joining the NATO alliance, Turkish president Erdoğan said to object their admission. Long-existing resentments from Ankara now threaten to block NATO enlargement, amid western re-appraisal of the bloc amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Later, Croatia also added concern over possible NATO enlargement.
Scandinavian NATO enlargement
Finland and Sweden are the only non-NATO members in the EU’s north. In a historic domestic shift, the Swedish Social Democratic Party said it would approve a NATO admission bid and also in Finland opinions on the joining the alliance shifted immediately after Russia invaded Ukraine. The Russian invasion of another sovereign country in Europe has changed sentiment, as NATO membership is now re-valued in protecting eastern European nations from potential Russian aggression. Both Finland and Sweden are seen as important potential new members of NATO, and its officials want to use the current window of opportunity to quickly admit them.
However, Turkey now seems to be spoiling the NATO enlargement. All members states need to approve enlargement both through its government and its parliament. Earlier, NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg said that Turkey had said to not block Swedish and Finnish accession. However, later Turkish President Erdoğan said to refuse the accession of both Scandinavian countries and that Finnish and Swedish delegates should not even bother coming to Turkey, as Erdoğan will not intend speaking with them.
Why does Turkey take this stance?
While Turkey has aligned itself with other NATO members on the condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it seems to staunchly oppose the admission of Finland and Sweden to the bloc. Turkey accuses both Scandinavian nations of “backing terrorism”. In doing so, Ankara refers to the Kurdish PKK, which it designated as a terrorist organization. Turkey also accuses both nations to having ties to the Gülen Movement, which is blamed to a controversial 2016 coup attempt in Ankara that left hundreds of people killed.
Historically, Finland and especially Sweden are a safe haven for Syrian and Kurdish activist who fled the region since the Syrian war. Sweden was also one of the first nations to recognize the Armenian, Greek and Assyrian genocide by the Ottoman Empire, which at the time also angered Turkish governmental officials. Also Sweden has frozen arms sales to Turkey for Ankara’s military operations in neighboring Syria – all souring relations between both countries.
However, it can be expected that Turkey changes its stance. Historically, the country favors NATO expansion. For other NATO members, the admission of Finland and Sweden is highly important. Erdoğan’s use of his veto can be seen as a part of negotiations. Next to his allegations towards Sweden and Finland, he wishes to pressure European nations on other matters, such as the EU migration deal or other trade and commercial concessions.
Croatia also voices refusal
Next to the Turkish rejection of Scandinavian NATO enlargement, Croatian President Zoran Milanovic said he would also instruct the Balkan country’s representative to NATO to vote against the enlargement. A possible membership of Finland and Sweden countries in NATO will hinge on whether Bosnia and Herzegovina’s electoral law will be changed, the President said, adding that Bosnian Croats are currently “being destroyed” as a political group. In October, BiH will organize general elections. However, Croatia remains very critical and wants a new electoral law