Turkey has agreed to support Finland and Sweden’s bids for NATO membership, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday.
“I am pleased to announce that we now have an agreement that paves the way for Finland and Sweden to join NATO,” he told reporters during a NATO summit in Madrid.
“Turkey, Finland and Sweden signed a memorandum that addresses Turkey’s concerns, including around arms exports and the fight against terrorism,” he added.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg displays applications to join the alliance of Sweden and Finland in Brussels at the organization’s headquarters — Photo: JOHANNA GERON / Pool / AFP Photo
These two countries geographically close to Russia applied for membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) a few weeks after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but Alliance member Turkey has sworn in because they harbor Kurdish separatists.
Erdogan and US President Joe Biden are also expected to talk on this issue on Wednesday, taking advantage of the NATO summit in Madrid, which will last until Thursday and will be dominated by the Russian challenge of the invasion of Ukraine, launched on February 24.
Sweden and Finland are close to Russia — Photo: Arte g1
Stoltenberg said that the 30 NATO leaders would now invite Finland, which shares a 1,300km border with Russia, and Sweden to join NATO and that they would become official “guests”. He told reporters: “The door is open – the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO will take place.”
However, even with the formal invitation granted, the 30 parliaments allied to NATO must ratify the leaders’ decision, a process that can take up to a year.
Turkey’s main demands, which surprised NATO allies in late May, were that the Nordic countries stop supporting Kurdish militant groups present on their territory and lift bans on some arms sales to Turkey.
Stoltenberg said the terms of the deal involve Sweden stepping up the pace of extradition requests for alleged Kurdish militants requested by Turkey and amending Swedish and Finnish laws to toughen their treatment.
Stoltenberg said Sweden and Finland would lift their restrictions on arms sales to Turkey.
Turkey has raised serious concerns that Sweden has harbored what it says are members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984. Stockholm denies the allegation.
The Turkish presidency’s statement says the four-way agreement reached on Tuesday means “full cooperation with Turkey in the fight against the PKK and its affiliates”.
It also says that Sweden and Finland “demonstrate solidarity with Turkey in the fight against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations”.
US President Joe Biden, who arrived in Madrid ahead of a dinner with his fellow NATO leaders, did not directly address the issue in his public comments with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and King Felipe of Spain.
But he stressed the alliance’s unity, saying NATO is “as galvanized as I believe it has ever been.”
Biden is expected to have a meeting with Erdogan during the NATO summit. Erdogan said before leaving for Madrid that he would pressure Biden to buy F-16 fighter jets.
He said he would discuss with Biden the issue of Ankara’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 air defense systems – which led to US sanctions – as well as modernization kits from Washington and other bilateral issues.
The resolution of the impasse marked a triumph for diplomacy as NATO allies attempt to seal Nordic membership in record time as a way of consolidating their response to Russia – particularly in the Baltic Sea, where Finnish and Swedish membership would give the alliance military superiority.
In that Nordic region, Norway, Denmark and the three Baltic states are already members of NATO. Russia’s war in Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”, has helped topple decades of Swedish opposition to NATO membership.
Russia has already sent mixed signals about Sweden and Finland joining the Atlantic alliance. In May, Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to back off his objections to this entry, saying Moscow had no problem with it.
While the Russian leader said Moscow would act if NATO placed more troops or equipment on its new members’ territory – which Finland and Sweden have already ruled out – he said NATO expansion itself was not a threat.
Russian President Vladimir Putin during an online meeting with BRICS countries this week — Photo: Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel/Kremlin via REUTERS
“On expansion, including new members Finland and Sweden, Russia has no problems with these countries — none. And in the sense that there is no immediate threat to Russia from an expansion that includes these nations,” Putin said.
The comments appeared to mark a major shift in Russia’s stance. For decades, Moscow has viewed NATO’s expansion with new members as a direct threat to Russia’s security, including citing it as a justification for its own invasion of Ukraine.
Before Putin spoke in May, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that Finland and Sweden were making a mistake that would have far-reaching consequences: “They must not delude themselves that we will simply tolerate this.”
Putin’s own spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, for his part, has already stated: “Definitely. NATO expansion does not make our continent safer and more stable.”
But faced with the prospect that his actions could cause the very expansion of the NATO he had opposed, Putin appears to have decided not to be directly against it.