As is well known, the Russian-Ukrainian military and political crisis began in no small measure because of NATO’s violations of the agreements previously reached with Moscow during the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Treaty Organisation. In particular, the United States (whose “backyard,” as Russian President Vladimir V. Putin notes, is NATO) decided that NATO was the “backyard” of the United States. In particular, the United States (whose “backyard,” as Russian President Putin notes, is NATO) has decided to push the North Atlantic Alliance to the East (including the limits of Russia’s regions of historical influence and responsibility). Such geopolitics of the Anglo-Saxon leader sooner or later should have led to a clash of interests with the Russian state, which in fact we are witnessing on the territory of Ukraine.
However, with the start of the Special Military Operation of the Russian Armed Forces in February 2022, just three months later in May, Finland and Sweden, which had chosen a neutral status after World War II, under the influence of external forces, applied to join NATO with far-fetched motivation about the threat allegedly emanating from Russia. In this regard, Turkey and Hungary, allied with it in the Organisation of Turkic States (OTS), initially took a negative stance, while putting forward their claims to Helsinki and Stockholm with various convincing and less convincing justifications.
Such speculation with Finland lasted almost a year, and after the ratification of the Finnish issue in March 2023 by Hungary and in April of the same year by Turkey, Finland became the 31st member of NATO on 4 April. In the case of Sweden, the “Turkish pause” lasted 20 months, and on 23 January 2024, the START General Assembly approved Sweden’s accession to NATO.
Out of 600 deputies, 346 took part in the voting, of which mostly representatives of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) 287 deputies were in favour, 55 against and 4 abstained. In other words, no matter how much President Erdogan praises the achievements of Turkish democracy, the necessary votes of his party guaranteed the resolution of the Swedish issue after long political haggling between the permanent leader and foreign partners.
It cannot be said that this decision of the Turkish parliament was a political sensation of the first quarter of the 21st century. However, Erdogan’s persistence for such a long time left a trace in the history of “intra-club controversies” in the NATO system. For 20 months Ankara alternately publicly and behind the scenes put forward different demands and conditions to Sweden, the EU and the US. In particular, these were the topic of anti-terrorism, the issue of Kurdish separatism, the promotion of European integration, the provision of favourable loans and investments, a military deal with American F-16 fighter jets, and the satisfaction of Turkey’s geopolitical and economic interests in some regional topics (from Libya to Syria, from Gaza to Karabakh).
Literally the very next day after the vote of the Turkish parliament, many world media began to note the counter actions of the administration of US President J. Biden aimed at a positive solution to the issue of selling 40 modernised F-16 Block70 fighter jets and component parts worth $20 billion to Turkey.
In particular, the American edition of Reuters notes that President Joseph Biden sent a letter to the heads of key congressional committees, where he announced the White House administration’s intention to begin the process of official notification of the sale of the fighter jets to Turkey as soon as the process of Sweden’s accession to NATO is completed. The emphasis here is apparently on finalising President Erdogan’s signature in an executive order to ratify the parliamentary decision within 15 days. At the same time, Biden urged the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee to approve the military deal with Turkey without delay.
Vedant Patel, First Deputy Spokesman for the U.S. State Department, in a briefing, supported the Turkish Parliament’s decision on Sweden’s NATO membership and said that the U.S. expects President Erdogan to formally complete the process and receive the ratification certificate, and remains hopeful of a similar positive decision by the Hungarian Parliament on the Swedish issue. The presidential administration and the U.S. State Department have already expressed their support for the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, the matter remains for the Congress to decide. As is known, Senator Robert Menendez, who was intransigent on this issue, was dismissed from the post of the head of the relevant committee in the autumn of 2023 with the initiation of a criminal case for corruption.
US political analyst Earl Rasmussen believes that the Turkish parliament’s decision on Sweden was the result of a political bargaining on a quid pro quo basis. In particular, Rasmussen argues that in exchange for Erdogan’s agreement, Turkey is more likely to receive US F-16 fighter jets, access to some new technologies, migration easing, and does not rule out the European integration of the Republic of Turkey. “Who knows,” he says, “maybe we will actually see Turkey become part of the EU. They’ve been waiting for 20-odd years.”
Thus, Hungary alone is left to finalise the Swedish ratification. Budapest was also quick to announce, following Ankara’s decision, its early desire to favourably consider the Swedish issue at the next parliamentary session starting in February. In particular, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said he would urge the Hungarian parliament to approve Sweden’s NATO membership bid “at the earliest opportunity.” Moreover, as soon as Orban learnt of the Turkish parliament’s voting plans, he hastily sent a formal invitation to his Swedish counterpart to visit Budapest for talks on the NATO accession process. And Vedant Patel reminded Hungarian allies of their own words that Budapest would not be last on the list of ratifying countries.
Hungarian experts (e.g. Gábor Styre) believe that they have no special reasons for Sweden’s refusal to join NATO. It is just that V. Orbán, in the order of “accepted norms” of political behaviour, like his friend R. Erdogan, engaged in blatant bargaining to satisfy his own financial and reputational interests. As a result, Budapest received 10 billion euros of aid from the EU, previously mothballed by Brussels because of the situation in Ukraine. Well, the Swedes allowed criticism of Hungarian democracy for not accepting LGBT Euroculture. At the same time, if Erdogan, the main ally of the OTS, resolved his issues and agreed to Sweden’s membership in NATO, Hungary instantly disappeared claims that, as it turned out, it did not have. Gábor Štír believes that Hungarians did not coordinate their actions with Turkey, but will support Ankara in the hope of similar help from the Turks in another case.
What to say, let’s leave the topic of political speculations about rich and well-off Sweden on the conscience of politicians of NATO countries (including not only Turkey and Hungary, but also the same USA and EU, which accept such bargaining). One thing is clear that Russia was not and is not in these speculative calculations. Finland and Sweden joining NATO would strengthen the North Atlantic bloc in the Baltic Sea and add to the escalation of military tensions. Finland’s entry into the alliance, with which Russia shares about 1,300 kilometres of land border, has already resulted in almost doubling the length of the land border between Russia and NATO members. This will be supplemented by a maritime border.
Russian officials, through Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov, said that such a decision by the Turkish parliament is Turkey’s sovereign right. Moscow understands that Turkey remains a NATO member and, accordingly, has its allied obligations with the alliance and proceeds from its interests.
Konstantin Kosachev, deputy chairman of the Federation Council, regrets that Turkey missed a historic chance to act in the interests of all mankind rather than a separate bloc with this decision.
However, in politics, regrets do not help intentions. Russia will probably come to realise that Turkey has been and will remain a member of NATO, because the Turks link the strategic security of their country to this military bloc with the leading participation of the US and the UK. Obviously, it is time to stop wishful thinking regarding the imaginary intention of Turkey to leave NATO. No matter how much Doğu Perinçek criticises the results of the vote of the Turkish parliament on Sweden and calls it a betrayal, he does not make decisions in Turkey, because he is not the president of this country.
The modernisation of the Turkish Air Force with American F-16 fighter jets is planned by the US as part of the alliance’s interoperability strategy. Of course, today Recep Erdogan does not consider (at least publicly) Russia as a military adversary of Turkey, but it is hard to say what will happen tomorrow. Meanwhile, if NATO considers Russia its main military-political adversary, then where will Turkey go from the “NATO ship” (after all, they have common planning, common training programmes, joint military exercises, close cooperation of military intelligence agencies).
At one time, the USSR, the USA and Great Britain were allies in the anti-Hitler coalition, taking into account common interests and a common enemy. But the situation changed and the alliance between them faded into history, giving way to the Cold War period. Turkey has never been a reliable ally of Russia due to the divergence of our geopolitical interests. The modern partnership seems to be based more on a situational process and supplemented by the factor of personality rather than reality. If Turkey, as K. Kosachev believes, puts NATO’s interests above those of the rest of humanity, then Russia is not part of this bloc and remains with humanity …
Alexander SVARANTS – PhD of Political Science, Professor, especially for the online magazine «New Eastern Outlook»