13.06.2023 Author: Alexandr Svaranc

Turkish Stand towards Prospects of Sweden Joining NATO

Turkish Stand towards Prospects of Sweden Joining NATO

During the presidential election campaign, Erdoğan’s main rival, the leader of the opposition People’s Alliance block Kılıçdaroğlu, stated in his anti-Russian rhetoric that in case of his victory he would remind the Russians about Turkey’s membership in NATO. However, nobody in Moscow has forgotten that Turkey, either with Erdoğan or without him still (since February 1952) remains a member to the North Atlantic Treaty. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu failed to provide a well-reasoned explanation for his reminders, and now, after his defeat, he and all other leaders of the Republican People’s Party have resigned in connection to their failure.

Meanwhile, the Turkish President Erdoğan’s cautious and realistic approach of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis, opposing NATO’s aggressive attitude towards the Russian Federation and calling for peaceful settlement of the conflict, is appreciated in Moscow. As regards the NATO expansion to the East and Turkey’s special attitude to other members (Finland and Sweden) joining the Treaty, the evaluations of this process are somewhat contradictory.

On the one hand, Russia of course believes that such NATO expansion towards its boundaries is intolerable as Moscow has not been threatening either Helsinki or Stockholm with aggression, and the alliance continues violating all its previous oral agreements with Russia. On the other hand, the Kremlin had not interfered in any way with Turkey’s stance as regards its dissenting opinion on the membership of Finland and Sweden. However, “had not interfered” does not mean that Russia does not support this opinion expressed by Turkey. Nevertheless, from the very beginning, when the applications of Helsinki and Stockholm had been made public in spring of 2022, Ankara opposed their NATO membership unless both candidates would cooperate with Turkey concerning extradition of the Kurdish separatists and terrorists hiding in these European countries.

As is commonly known, after the devastating earthquake in the South-East of Turkey and the start of the pre-election campaign, the heads of NATO (Jens Stoltenberg), the CIA (William Burns) and the Department of State (Antony Blinken) simultaneously visited Ankara. Obviously, all these leaders not only expressed their condolence and moral support to their Turkish colleagues, they also discussed with them the urgent global agenda issues (including the subject of NATO’s expansion concerning Finland and Sweden). The Americans possibly exerted certain pressure on the Turkish leadership and were doing some sort of bargaining with them as regards provision of financial aid and resuming delivery of military and technical products (e.g. 40 F-16 fighter aircraft with updated avionics and spare parts thereto).

Anyway, before the general election on March 30 of this year, the Turkish Parliament approved Finland’s joining NATO, then President Erdoğan signed the respective decision, and on April 4 of this year Finland became the 31st member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. This Turkish decision was facilitated by Helsinki’s respective actions aimed at satisfying Ankara’s proposals concerning anti-terrorist strife regarding the Kurdish organizations and functionaries in Suomi. On April 4, Tony Blinken, in reply to this consent by Turkey, expressed his confidence that Sweden would also find its way to NATO before July 11. Washington also expressed its hope to support Turkey by military deliveries of F-16 fighter aircraft.

Naturally, this consent given by Turkey could hardly make Russia happy, as Finland has actually direct border with our country of almost 1,300 km, that complicates the situation and creates tension in the Northwestern theater. This was possibly one of the reasons why Russia, on agreement with the friendly Belarus, had to deploy there the battlefield nuclear weapons for deterrence of NATO. It is difficult to give an unambiguous answer whether this consent by Ankara was due to Helsinki’s cooperation with regard to the Kurds or it was a result of pressure, or, what is even worse, of Erdoğan’ bargaining with Washington and Brussels. However, the fact is obvious: Turkey has supported Finland’s joining NATO.

But the situation with Sweden was somewhat different.

First, over 100,000 Kurds, who have been granted Swedish citizenship or residence permit, live there. Consequently, the large number – as compared to the similar index in Finland – of person of Kurdish origin with radical views in Sweden extremely limits Stockholm’s margin in satisfying all requests made by Ankara. Ignoring the Kurds’ civil rights in Sweden would make it possible: a) to decrease the level of democratic values in this Scandinavian country; b) to turn the local Kurds against the Swedish authorities and spark off a wave of crisis with unknown consequences. Many Turkish opposition members of Kurdish origin became political refugees in Sweden, and are protected by the local democratic laws.

Secondly, the Swedish authorities did not take any adequate actions to exclude possible anti-Turkish provocations in their country. It concerns the much talked-of act of public burning of the Quran in front of the Turkish Embassy building in Stockholm by the Danish ultra-nationalist Rasmus Paludan. Moreover, the local police even provided some sort of security and safety to this dimwit in order to protect him against possible violence on the part of discontent groups. The action entailed a natural negative reaction both from Ankara and from the whole global Muslim community.

Meanwhile, Sweden announced taking certain anti-terrorist measures and legislative acts that, in Stockholm’s opinion, should satisfy Turkey and lift the obstacle on the way to NATO. Technically, anyway, Sweden will obtain certain NATO guarantees for its security even in its “NATO Partner” status.

After making public the results of the second round of the presidential election in Turkey and recognizing Erdoğan’s victory (including by the US, the EU countries and the United Kingdom), the subject of Sweden joining NATO reappeared on the front pages of global media. In particular, the US and NATO believe that before the well-known summit of the Organization in Vilnius on July 11-12, 2023 Turkey will approve Sweden’s application for joining the North Atlantic Treaty.

According to TASS agency’s source in Ankara: “Actually, the main requirement of Turkey has been met: anti-terrorist laws came into force in Sweden. Therefore, in general, we should expect Ankara’s decision before the beginning of the NATO summit on July 11. Now it will be difficult act otherwise. Moreover, it is expected that the sale of F-16 aircraft to Turkey will be resolved, while this – though unofficially – makes part of the subject related to Sweden’s membership.”

Of course, different sources may have varying opinions but they do not take any decisions. However, July 11 is quite near. In case Turkey supports Sweden’s application for joining NATO it will be possible to conclude that Ankara, in its peculiar maneuvering and bargaining fashion, has arranged for a kind of transaction with the subject of Finland and Sweden joining NATO. And its first part (Finland) was implemented on the eve of the presidential election. The second, more complicated part (Sweden) was then put on hold based on the election results as some sort of guarantee of the US and NATO position not to interfere with the election outcome in favor of the opposition and to seamlessly recognize Erdoğan’s victory based on the results of the second round. I will not be surprised if, someday, the opponents of the President of Turkey, after Ankara accepts Sweden’s membership in NATO, state that, allegedly, while Kılıçdaroğlu was negotiating with the local Kurds in Diyarbakir so that they vote for him at the election, Erdoğan in Stockholm via the Swedes (to be more exact, via the CIA office in Sweden) blocked the support for the Turkish opposition by the Kurds.

Possibly, Turkey is supposed to additionally obtain two important bonuses from this deal: a) the long-awaited upgraded F-16 fighters and b) the financial aid from the US and the IMF for overcoming the lira crisis and for restoration works in the earthquake zone.

It would mean that, first, Turkey disagrees, then it raises the price for its consent and, finally, it achieves mutual resolution of disputed issues in the process of bargaining with the West, headed by the US. Erdoğan again demonstrates his ability to come to agreement with all who are of interest for him. As we see, after the election, Moscow was reminded about Turkey’s membership in NATO even without Kılıçdaroğlu.

So, what could be Moscow’s response? Alexander Lukashenko, in reply to Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s question about a single nuclear weapon for both countries, made a suggestion that the leaders of Kazakhstan and all other CIS countries join the Union State of Russia and Belarus, and then the nuclear weapons would be common to all. As we know, President Tokayev politely refused such prospects preferring the EAEU economic integration to the political Russia – Belarus alliance (however the Kazakh leader preferred not to mention Kazakhstan’s membership in the Organization of Turkic States). And what if this duo becomes in the foreseeable future a trio as regards the South Caucasus region adjacent to Turkey, in the form of Russia, Belarus and Armenia? This will be Russia’s symmetric response to the US, the United Kingdom, Turkey and NATO as a whole.


Aleksandr SVARANTS, PhD in political science, professor, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.

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