Thu, 26 May 2022

Erdogan baulks at Swedish, Finnish NATO membership

Voice of America
14 May 2022, 07:51 GMT+10

ISTANBUL, Turkey - Veto-wielding NATO member Turkey is voicing opposition to Sweden and Finland joining the alliance, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan telling reporters Friday he does not positively view the countries' membership bid. Analysts warn the Turkish leader's stance will likely rekindle questions over Ankara's allegiances given its close ties with Moscow.

"At the moment, we are following the developments regarding Sweden and Finland, but we don't hold positive views," Erdogan said. "Because in the past, previous Turkish governments made a mistake about Greece's membership, and you know Greece's current attitude against Turkey."

Turkey and neighboring Greece are bitter rivals with numerous disputes, including ongoing tensions over disputed territorial waters in the Aegean Sea. But Erdogan's stance has more to do with his close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Huseyin Bagci, head of the Ankara-based Foreign Policy Institute.

"Turkey has very good relations with Russia, and Russia supplies defense systems," he said. "Russia is, for now and for the future, one of the biggest energy suppliers to Turkey. The good relations between Erdogan and Putin are also the reason why Tayyip Erdogan plays this card. The second, Tayyip Erdogan tries to increase the leverage of Turkish bargaining process through this."

Turkey remains at loggerheads with NATO over its purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system which saw the United States hit Ankara with military sanctions claiming the purchase compromised NATO defense systems.

International relations expert Soli Ozel of Istanbul's Kadir Has University warned Ankara risks a backlash from its NATO partners over its opposition to Sweden's and Finland's membership.

"I am sure this is how it will be interpreted, and there will be those who say let's expel Turkey from NATO, although to the best of my knowledge there is no expulsion mechanism in NATO," Ozel said.

But relations between Turkey and its allied partners, in particular Washington, had improved with Ankara's condemnation of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Turkey has recently used goodwill over its stance on Ukraine to improve ties with its Western allies.

Some analysts suggest Erdogan could be looking for concessions from Sweden and Finland. Erdogan criticized the two countries Friday for being sympathetic to Kurdish groups accused by Ankara of carrying out terrorist attacks in Turkey. Helsinki and Stockholm are strongly critical of Turkey's human rights record and both countries have given political asylum to many opponents of the Turkish government.

Analyst Ozel said Erdogan could be looking for a deal but questions his approach.

"Turkey would like to use its power to veto as leverage in order to get those two countries to do as it would please it," Ozel said. "How wise it is, is pretty debatable in my judgment; I don't particular[ly] find it very advisable. Because if Turkey is on a charm offensive and it's trying to rebuild bridges that it burnt with almost everyone, you can actually make your case, but you don't have to do it so publicly."

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said patience was needed to overcome Erdogan's opposition. NATO foreign ministers, including from Turkey, are to meet in Berlin this weekend.

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