A PKK (PYD/YPG/SDF) terrorist carrying the Swedish and Finnish flags. | Illustration by Erhan Yalvaç.

Interpreting Turkey’s decision on Finland and Sweden

Ankara endorses NATO’s key goals and wants the alliance to address its security concerns – that's all

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently announced that Turkey did not have “positive thoughts” on the admission of Finland and Sweden into NATO. We already know that those two countries, which remained neutral even during the Cold War, expressed their interest in joining the alliance in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also said that the admission of Finland and Sweden would be swift and without problems. Despite Russian objections, there is a good chance that the membership of those two nations will be on the agenda of the Madrid summit on June 30. In addition to the Ukraine crisis, NATO’s fresh expansion fuels tensions between the West and Russia. Indeed, the admission of Finland and Sweden – a question that will start a new chapter in the European security architecture – represents a nightmare scenario for Moscow.

Russia, which stated that its invasion of Ukraine was intended to prevent NATO’s expansion, now faces a much greater challenge. Indeed, the Kremlin already said that the admission of Finland and Sweden would be viewed as an absolute threat. Nonetheless, Russian officials not only stated that admitting those states into NATO would not only fail to make Europe safer but warned that NATO membership would turn those places into conflict zones and part of the enemy, which would entail great risks. They also threatened to “retaliate” in the form of “military-technical precautions” among other things. Russia, which sees that it will be contained from the north as well, should be expected to try and station nuclear missiles in the Baltic Sea. Whereas the United States and the United Kingdom endorsed the membership bids of Finland and Sweden, Turkey’s concerns were already being felt.

It was against that backdrop that the Turkish president made those remarks, which became a hot topic in world politics. Here’s how Erdoğan explained why Turkey was concerned: “Our predecessors made a mistake regarding Greece and NATO. You already know how Greece has treated Turkey, with NATO backing. We do not want that to happen. Unfortunately, the Scandinavian countries resemble a guest house for terrorist organizations. Groups like the PKK and DHKP-C (Revolutionary People’s Liberation Front) remain stationed in Sweden. Indeed, some of (their members) are in their parliaments.”

Erdoğan’s statement may have caused some discomfort in Western capitals. Some could even say that the Turkish attitude undermines NATO solidarity and serves Russian interests. That is obviously absurd. In truth, Turkey remains one of the strongest advocates of NATO solidarity.

Unacceptable stance

It remains unclear whether Ankara’s lack of “positive thoughts” means that the country will veto the membership request of Finland and Sweden. What is clear, however, is that Turkey finds unacceptable the Scandinavian nations’ approach to the PKK – and even the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) – in a way that violates the spirit of the alliance.

One could argue that Turkey has more problems with Sweden’s policy than the policy of Finland. Some Swedish commentators made references to Article 5 during the public debate on NATO membership, sarcastically asking whether the Swedes were supposed to defend Turkey. They concluded that they had no such obligation.

It goes without saying that such daring comments made in a country, which harbors the PKK, made Turkey unhappy. One of the most prominent members of NATO, an alliance of 30 nations that make decisions unanimously, Turkey could reasonably ask those countries, whose policy hurts Turkish security interests, to change that policy. Specifically, Turkey has the right and ability to react to countries that criticized its military operations in Syria, which served to combat terrorism and create a safe zone for refugees. In this sense, Ankara endorses NATO’s key goals and wants its alliance to address its security concerns.

The ball is now in the court of other prominent members of the alliance.

[Daily Sabah, May 17, 2022]

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