On May 18, Mr Erdogan increased the number of Ankara’s demands for Helsinki and Stockholm from 2 to 10. Earlier, at a press conference on May 16, the Turkish leader had named only 2 demands that Finland and Sweden must end support for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which considers Ankara a terrorist organization, and the two countries must lift an arms export ban imposed on Turkey since October 2019 after Ankara’s forces attacked northern Syria.
Erdogan also claimed that the two Nordic countries mentioned above, which are sending delegations to Ankara to persuade him, would be useless if Turkey’s demands were not met.
Observers say the Turkish president’s public opposition has created a new obstacle to Sweden and Finland joining NATO and could give the alliance a headache trying to find a solution decided on for many months. Because, as usual, the admission of new members to NATO requires the consent of all existing member states.
According to the Guardian, the task of NATO diplomats now is to determine how aggressive Mr Erdogan is and the cost of forcing him to back down and averting a full-blown crisis in the alliance.
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde initially hoped she had been mistranslated when Turkish media quoted her as saying that Turks see all Kurds as terrorists. On May 14, Ms. Linde asserted that she had never made such statements, had never met the PKK and never did.
Ms. Linde is cautiously optimistic that any misunderstandings can be cleared up. However, developments up to May 18 clearly show that the assurances given by the top Swedish diplomat did not meet the demands of the Turkish leadership.
Nordic politicians were initially skeptical of Mr Erdogan’s seriousness. Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said he spoke to his Turkish counterpart a month ago and saw no mention of Ankara’s concerns. The Turkish ambassador to NATO, Basat Öztürk, also gave no warning.
However, this assessment is changing. According to Jonathan Eyal, deputy director of the Rusi Institute, Mr Erdogan “is facing the abyss and acting through the pit war game”. “Many of his demands on the PKK are in a familiar Turkish tone. However, he has reasons at home to voice his objections. The economy is getting worse and the country’s credibility is getting worse. He’s at an all-time low,” Eyal explained.
With inflation at 66.9%, the local currency having lost almost half its value over the past year and parliamentary elections looming next summer, stoking nationalism in the vote will not hurt and could even help Mr Erdogan’s voters to win . But that doesn’t mean that Erdogan’s complaints exacerbate the problem.
Earlier this week, Turkey’s Justice Ministry identified six PKK members it wanted to extradite from Finland, as well as 11 other PKK members from Sweden. In addition to those accused by Ankara of helping American cleric Fethullah Gülen orchestrate the 2016 attempted coup in Turkey, they also want to arrest 12 suspects in Finland and 21 suspects in Sweden.
The list, which was last sent to Finland and Sweden in 2017, has not been the subject of Turkish lobbying in recent years, Nordic diplomats said.
Turkish media have reported what they describe as another example of Sweden’s “soft” stance on terrorism, including evidence that the PKK branch organized terrorist attacks in Syria, a meeting in Stockholm chaired by the Swedish Foreign Ministry and of the Olof Palme International Center Panzer.
Turkey also claims that PKK supporters held a protest at a shopping mall in 2019 in support of jailed leader Abdullah Öcalan and that Swedish security forces did nothing to prevent them from carrying the PKK flag and Öcalan’s photos.
The Nordic countries are unlikely to give in to these complaints: “These two countries cannot change their laws on the right to freedom of assembly,” said Eyal. Sweden in particular has an active Kurdish community that enjoys political support. This period is reminiscent of 2009, when Mr Erdogan said he would not allow politician Anders Rasmussen to be appointed NATO Secretary General unless Denmark shut down a Kurdish TV channel. Mr. Rasmussen was still appointed, but a year later the station was also closed.
This time, there could be a similar delayed deal behind the scenes. No country can simply dismantle its asylum system, and Sweden says it does not issue a separate terror list, unlike lists drawn up at the European Union (EU) level. ).
Observers believe that Turkey can use its veto right in NATO not only as a means of exerting pressure on future members, but also on current members.
CNN quoted Asli Aydintasbas, a senior policy expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, as saying the key issue may be the Turkish president’s frustration at not being able to develop an effective relationship with US President Joe Biden’s administration, which he did with former White House leaders like Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Erdogan himself publicly complained about this last month.
Additionally, Turkey’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system in 2017 angered Washington and led to Ankara’s exclusion from the US F-35 stealth fighter program.
Recent speculation that Russian President Vladimir Putin may visit Ankara in the near future, although Moscow has denied it, is perhaps another signal from Ankara that it still has “cards” to play. However, it is this double game that has disappointed many other NATO countries with Erdogan’s policies on the brink of war.
This is not the first time Turkey has opposed the admission of new NATO members, and Mr Erdogan “can expect to be persuaded, to make concessions and even to be rewarded for his cooperation,” Aydintasbas noted, as in the past.
Although NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Turkey’s security concerns need to be addressed, the way the Erdogan government is expressing its displeasure goes against the views of other NATO members – at a time when the alliance is amid growing concerns More than ever, consensus is needed that the Russia-Ukraine war could be viewed as “disruptive” and unpopular with Ankara.