Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he is not in favour of Sweden and Finland joining NATO, threatening to derail their membership bids.
Erdogan said the countries are ‘guesthouses for terrorist organisations’ such as the Kurdish PKK and supporters of Fethullah Gulen, a cleric accused of leading a coup against him in 2016, and added: ‘We cannot be positive towards this.’
But he did not declare outright opposition, leaving the door open to a deal. Sweden and Finland’s foreign ministers say they expect to speak with their Turkish counterpart on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Berlin tomorrow.
Turkish President Erdogan has said he is not in favour of Sweden and Finland being allowed to join NATO, accusing them of hosting ‘terrorists’
Ann Linde, Sweden’s top diplomat, told news agency AFP that she would have ‘the opportunity’ to talk about ‘a potential NATO application’ at the summit.
Meanwhile Finland’s Pekka Haavistosaid said he hoped to ‘continue our discussion’ with Turkey’s Mevlut Cavusoglu in the German capital.
Erdogan’s remarks come just a day after Finland’s prime minister and president said it is in the country’s interests to join NATO, and they intend to submit a membership application within ‘days’.
Sweden, meanwhile, has published a technical paper on joining the alliance which warned that Russia could retaliate if it joins – but that membership would help prevent an armed attack.
Magdalena Andersson, the Swedish Prime Minister, will review the document over the weekend and announce her intention on Sunday. It is widely expected that she will announce her own intention to join.
But NATO is a 30-nation alliance, all of whom must vote unanimously in order for a new member to be accepted – meaning Erdogan’s opposition is significant.
Both Finland and Sweden are home to Kurdish minorities, some of whom are believed to be members of the PKK.
NATO has encouraged Sweden and Finland to join the alliance, to help bolster its northern flank in the Baltics against any Russian attack (pictured, a NATO drill this week)
NATO has said the Scandinavian countries would be welcomed with ‘open arms’, but the move could be blocked by Erdogan (pictured, a NATO drill at the weekend)
The group, which wants the creation of an autonomous Kurdish region, is designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey and the US for attacks on civilians.
However, its Syrian sister group – the YPG/PKK – is allied to the US because it helped in the war against ISIS.
Finland and Sweden are also home to ‘Gulenists’ – supporters of cleric Fethullah Gulen who is a staunch opponent of Erdogan.
In 2016, an armed coup attempted to depose Erdogan and led to days of unrest during which the presidential palace and parliament were bombed by jets.
Turkey has sparred with both countries in the past over deporting alleged PKK members and Gulenists for trial – requests that have mostly been refused.
“Turkish national security elites view Finland and Sweden as semi-hostile, given the presence of PKK and Gulenists. It’s gonna take arm twisting to get sign off,” Aaron Stein, research director at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said on Twitter.
NATO says membership is open to any “European state in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area”.
Finland and Sweden are already NATO’s closest partners, sitting in on many meetings and taking part in joint military exercises.
Sanna Marin, the Finnish prime minister, announced her intention to submit a membership application to NATO on Thursday. Sweden is expected to follow
Much of their military equipment is inter-operable with NATO allies.
However, they cannot benefit from NATO’s collective defence clause – that an attack on one ally is an attack on all – until they join the alliance.
Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, both had been locked into decades-old pledges of neutrality in return for promises from the Kremlin that it would not attack.
But, watching Russian tanks roll into Ukraine and devastate towns and cities, opinion rapidly shifted in favour of joining NATO.
Russia has threatening to retaliate with ‘military-technical’ measures, likely to include stationing more troops, missiles and potentially nuclear weapons on their borders.
Moscow has also threatened to cut off Finnish gas supplies, which could cripple the economy – though would also hurt Russia financially.
Turkey has tried to maintain a middle ground on the invasion, sending armed drones to Ukraine and trying to facilitate peace talks between the sides.
But it has not backed Western sanctions on Moscow and seeks to maintain close trade, energy and tourism ties with Russia.