A top aide to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at a press conference in Istanbul that the government would be unlikely to seek a vote in parliament to approve NATO membership for Finland and Sweden before elections in May. This will further delay membership in NATO for the two Nordic countries, which are prime targets for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
But Sweden and Finland have very liberal asylum policies that include sheltering Kurdish separatists, who Turkey defines as terrorists. President Erdogan insisted that both nations change their definition of terrorism to satisfy Turkish objections.
Sweden passed a constitutional amendment against terrorism but Erdogan’s aide, Ibrahim Kalin, insisted that adjustments to the law were still necessary.
Sweden and Finland signed an agreement with Turkey last year aimed at overcoming Ankara’s objection to their Nato bids, which were made in May and require the approval of all 30 Nato member states.
The changes would empower the Swedish government to crack down on recruitment, financing and activities of “terrorist organisations” such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged decades long warfare against the Turkish government over Kurdish rights. Turkey, the EU and the US have designated the PKK as a terror group due to its attack against civilian targets.
Swedish officials, according to Kalin, told their Turkish counterparts that until now they didn’t realise how deep PKK had been penetrating the Swedish political system through recruitment and financing efforts.
Kalin, who is Mr. Erdogan’s spokesman and effectively serves as his national security adviser, told journalists that they were unlikely to seek a vote in parliament due to public opinion in Turkey that is strongly supportive of Erdogan’s hard line against Sweden and Finland over their relations with Kurdish separatists.
“The opposition will ask all kinds of questions, and we cannot risk our political capital as we go into elections in the next three, four months,” he said.
Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party is, for the first time, in a close election fight, and with the opposition parties joining Erdogan in opposing Finland and Sweden’s entry into NATO, it makes for a touchy political situation.
Mr. Erdogan first threatened to veto Sweden’s and Finland’s entrance to NATO last year, citing what he said were ties to Kurdish militant groups including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which is considered a terrorist group by the U.S. and the European Union. Members of the PKK’s Syrian branch are part of a U.S.-led military coalition fighting Islamic State, and the Kurdish group also has some support among Kurdish communities in Europe.
Adding Finland to NATO is a provocative move that has angered Russia. But Finland has a tough little army, as they’ve shown in previous wars against Russia. And with a little help, Sweden could become a fine addition to NATO.
But is this really the time to expand NATO? And what of Ukraine? Russia will fight just to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO. Unnecessarily poking the Russian bear could prove costly in the end.