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Will Turkey block NATO membership for Sweden and Finland?


Turkish President Recep TAYYIP Erdogan talks ahead of peace negotiations between Ukraine and Russia at Dolmabahce Presidential office in Istanbul, Turkiye.

Arda Kucukkaya | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Recep Tayyip Erdan, Turkey’s President has doubled his resistance to Sweden and Finland joining NATO. This would have been a historic move for both Nordic countries following Russia’s invasion in Ukraine.

“We won’t say yes” to those [countries]Erdogan spoke at a press conference on Monday night. Erdogan stated that those who use sanctions against Turkey are attempting to gain membership to NATO’s security organization. He was speaking about Sweden’s decision to suspend weapons sales to Turkey for 2019 in protest at its military operations in Syria.

The foreign ministry of Sweden said Monday it would send officials from Finland and Sweden to Ankara, Turkey to discuss Erdogan’s concerns. However, the Turkish leader said that they would be wasting time.

“Will they persuade me?” Erdogan replied, Excuse me. But they shouldn’t bother.” He said NATO, which would include the joining of two other countries, “would be a place in which terrorist groups are concentrated”.

Finland’s foreign ministry responded to a CNBC request for comment, saying that it “implements the UN as well as the EU terrorism sanctions against any person or entity … in accordance with EU legislation” and that “the EU and Turkey have regular dialogues on counterterrorism issues.” CNBC reached out to Sweden for comments.

Sweden and Finland provide refuge for Kurdish militant separatist organisation the PKK. Turkey regards it as terrorist group and it has attacked Turkey. They have held meetings of high standing with the YPG branch, the PKK’s Syrian arm. This group is credited with helping to defeat ISIS and fighting against Turkish forces.

This is why it’s so important.

After the support of the governments from both Finland and Sweden, they are now on the verge of joining NATO.

The Western defense organisation would be able to expand its territory and clout. This statement will make an important effort against Russia and provoke anger from Moscow. Sweden and Finland, while members of NATO but not the EU, share an 830-mile border.

It feels as if a crisis is about to hit Turkey-West relations regarding Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO bids.

Timoth Ashy

Bluebay Asset Management, Emerging Markets Strategist

Moscow will be more officially opposed by the addition of these two nations to NATO, Dmitry Medvedev (ex-President) warned in April.

However, NATO membership for any new state member requires the approval of all members.

NATO leadership welcomes the announcement, suggesting that the applications could be accepted quickly into the group, but one of the most powerful NATO members is standing in its way: Turkey.

Turkey joined NATO in 1952 and is an important player. It boasts the second largest military force in NATO’s 30-member countries after the United States.

The decision by both Sweden and Finland to apply for NATO membership was monumental. It is a result of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine that triggered their desire to be NATO members. The invasion triggered a surge in public opinion that led to both nations joining NATO’s 73-year-old defence alliance.

Timothy Ash, Bluebay Asset Management’s emerging market strategist, stated Tuesday that “the stakes are huge.” The Turkish-Western relationship is in crisis over the NATO bids of Sweden and Finland.

Ash stated that “Other NATO Members will be furious at Turkey due to the now obvious and present threat to Europe presented Putin in Ukraine.” Turkey will be seen as an unstable partner. This will leave even more bad blood/faith between the two sides — gone will be any remnants of a Turkish EU accession bid.”

Turkey’s strategically important Incirlik airbase houses 50 tactical nuclear weapons. Some U.S. officials suggest that they be removed due to rising tensions between Washington and Ankara. These tensions stemmed partly from Erdogan’s warmer ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Turkey’s controversial purchase of Russia’s S-400 Air Defense System. This system was then kicked out NATO’s F-35 Program.

Turkey supported Ukraine with weapons and mediation, including its deadly Bayraktar drones. However, Turkey is refusing to be a NATO member in sanctions against Russia.

Only tough talking?

Some analysts are skeptical of Erdogan’s tough talk, convinced he won’t actually block the NATO membership bids — rather, they predict he will simply use his country’s leverage to extract concessions and boost his own waning popularity at home.

Analysts at Eurasia Group, a political risk consulting firm, wrote that Ankara would not prevent the countries from joining NATO despite its objections late Monday in a research paper.

“Erdogan may be looking to make concessions in order to greenlight NATO’s expansion, most notably from Sweden,” it said. This could include lifting Stockholm’s bilateral arms embargo for Turkey, and recognition that the PKK is a terrorist organisation to reduce its fund-raising efforts and recruit activities,” said the note.

Erdogan’s foreign policy chief Ibrahim Kalin, speaking to Reuters over the weekend, assured allies that he was not shutting the door. However, we raise this matter as a matter affecting national security in Turkey” regarding the NATO accession of Sweden and Finland.

Regardless of the outcome, weapons deals are likely to play a significant role. Congress has been asked to approve the sale of F-16 fighter planes by Biden to Turkey. Ankara is likely to seek assurances.

Erdogan’s brinksmanship is likely motivated more by his declining popularity at home, in the face of rising inflation and an increasing cost of living. Turkey has seen its lowest opinion polling in years.

In Turkey, the inflation rate reached 70% in April. It was a result of Erdogan’s years-long refusal to raise interest rates. However, he has been burning currency reserves. This country, home to 84 million people, has suffered from the rising cost of basic goods and fuel. The invasion of Russia in Ukraine also saw prices for agricultural commodities and petroleum products skyrocket.

Ash stated that there are two factors which can rally Turkey’s nation. “Opposition against the PKK” and Western hypocrisy.