Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks before the peace talks between the Russian and Ukrainian delegations on March 29, 2022 at the Presidential Office in Dolmabahচেe, Istanbul, Turkey.
Arda Kukukkaya | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has doubled his opposition to Sweden and Finland joining the NATO alliance, a move that would be historic for the two Nordic countries in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“We will not say ‘yes’ to them [countries] Erdogan told a news conference late Monday night that sanctions were imposed on Turkey for joining the security organization NATO. He was referring to the suspension of Swedish arms sales to Turkey in 2019 for military action in Syria.
Sweden’s foreign ministry said Monday that it plans to send senior officials from both Sweden and Finland to the Turkish capital, Ankara, to address Erdogan’s objections. But the Turkish leader basically said they would waste their time.
Erdogan said, “Will they come to convince us? Sorry, but they should not be bothered.” He added that joining the two countries would make NATO “a place where representatives of terrorist organizations would be concentrated.”
The Finnish Foreign Ministry responded to CNBC’s request for comment by saying that it “enforces EU as well as EU sanctions on terrorism in accordance with EU law … against any person or entity” and that “there is regular dialogue between the EU and Turkey on terrorism issues.” Has also reached out to the Swedish government.
Sweden and Finland have sheltered members of the Kurdish separatist group PKK, which Turkey classifies as a terrorist organization and which has carried out attacks in Turkey. The two countries have expressed support for YPG members and held high-level meetings, which credited the PKK’s branch in Syria for defeating ISIS as well as assisting in the fight against Turkish forces.
Why is this so important?
Sweden and Finland are on the verge of applying for NATO membership, after both countries expressed their support for a move to abandon their unconventional non-aligned position between the coalition and Russia.
It would expand the influence and territory of the Western defense establishment and make a dramatic statement pushing back against Russia, which has already provoked outrage and threats from Moscow. Sweden and Finland are members of the European Union, but not NATO, and the latter shares 830 miles of border with Russia.
The two NATO members will give Moscow “more formally registered opponents”, its former president and top security official Dmitry Medvedev warned in mid-April.
But for a new member state to join NATO requires the unanimous approval of all existing members.
Although the NATO leadership welcomed the news, suggesting that applicants could be quickly accepted into the group, one of its most militarily strong members stood in the way: Turkey.
Turkey, which joined the alliance in 1952, is a key player in NATO, the second largest military pride in the 30-member group after the United States.
For both Sweden and Finland, the decision to apply for NATO membership was memorable and was triggered by Russia’s brutal attack on its neighbor Ukraine, which itself wanted to join NATO. Until the attack, public opinion in both countries was not in favor of joining the 73-year-old defense alliance.
“The stakes here are huge,” Timothy Ash, an emerging market strategist at Asset Management in Blue, said in a note on Tuesday. “This seems to be creating a major crisis in Turkish-Western relations, centered around the NATO bid in Finland and Sweden.”
“Other NATO members will be angry with Turkey in light of the current and current danger for Europe presented by Putin in Ukraine,” Ash added. “Turkey will be seen as an untrustworthy partner. This will leave even worse blood / trust between the two sides – any remnants of Turkey’s bid to join the EU will go away.”
The U.S. has 50 strategic nuclear weapons at Turkey’s highly strategic Insirlik airfield, which some U.S. officials have suggested removing due to growing tensions with Washington and Ankara in recent years. These tensions were partly due to Erdogan’s warm relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the controversial decision to buy Russia’s S-400 air defense system, which saw it deviate from NATO’s F-35 program.
Although Turkey has backed Ukraine by sending arms, particularly its lethal bioreactor drones, and attempts to mediate between Moscow and Kiev, it has so far refused to join its NATO allies with Russia’s approval.
Just what is difficult?
Some analysts are skeptical of Erdogan’s tough rhetoric, confident that he will not actually block NATO membership bids – rather, they predict that he will only use his country’s leverage to gain leverage and increase his own popularity at home.
“Despite its objections, Ankara will not block countries’ access to NATO,” analysts at the Eurasia Group, a political risk adviser, wrote in a research note late Monday.
“Erdogan is probably seeking concessions from Sweden, mainly for green light for NATO expansion. This could include easing Stockholm’s bilateral arms embargo on Turkey and some recognition of the PKK as a terrorist organization to reduce its fundraising and recruitment activities.” The note says.
In an interview with Reuters over the weekend, Ibrahim Kalin, Erdogan’s top foreign policy adviser, reassured allies: “We are not closing the door, but we are raising the issue of Turkey’s national security.” Sweden and Finland.
No matter what happens, the arms deal is likely to play a significant role. The Biden administration is currently seeking congressional approval to finalize the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, for which Ankara will likely seek assurances.
However, further pressure on Erdogan’s Bronx membership could be due to the need to increase his weak popularity domestically amid inflation and the crisis of life. Public opinion polls in Turkey have reached their lowest level in years.
Turkish inflation hit 70% in April, largely due to Erdogan’s refusal to raise interest rates burning through currency reserves. Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has caused the prices of fuel and agricultural products to skyrocket, with global prices of fuel and basic commodities rising sharply to the tune of মিল 74 million.
“There are two things that unite the nation in Turkey,” Ash wrote. “Opposition to the PKK and perceived Western hypocrisy.”