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Erdogans factor: more on accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO

photo: cdn.iha.com.tr
27 May 2022
Amur GadzhiyevAmur Gadzhiyev

Amur Gadzhiyev

Candidate of historical sciences, CISS expert

On 26 May 2022, Recep Tayyip Erdogan chaired the extraordinary session of the National Security Council (NSC). The main topics on the agenda were the new military operation in Syria targeted at completing the creation of the 30 km deep security zone at the southern borders of Turkey, and the accession to NATO of Sweden and Finland.

The published statement based on the outcomes of the NSC session emphasized: Turkey inalterably follows the spirit and the letter of international alliances laws, and expects the same level of commitment and openness from its allies. «Ankara appeals to the countries violating the international law by supporting terrorism to put an end to such practices and account for our concerns in the security sphere», the NSC stated addressing Sweden and Finland, as the Republic of Turkey is against their accession to NATO. It means that Ankara explains its position by arguing that the country sponsoring terrorism cannot become a NATO member.

We should note from the very beginning that Turkey supports the «open doors» policy of NATO, to which it is a member starting from 1952. In the post-cold-war period, Ankara actively promoted the accession of the former Warsaw Treaty members to the North Atlantic alliance both in 1999 and in 2004. Turkey has no objection raised as a matter of principle against NATO expansion per se, however, it has heavy claims against certain countries members of the alliance.

The essence of the Turkish claims

On 18 May 2022, Finland and Sweden passed their official applications for accession to Jens Stoltenberg, the incumbent Secretary General of NATO. However, Ankara immediately blocked the start of the process of reviewing the above-mentioned applications having put forth the following three conditions: these Scandinavian countries should stop supporting the Kurdish groups (which Turkey considers terrorists), clear security guarantees should be provided, all sorts of export bans should be cancelled for Turkey.

The above-mentioned statement of the National Security Council provides some evidence of reaching certain agreement on the last issue between Turkey and the accession candidates. Let us note that one day before the NSC session Turkey held negotiations with representatives of Sweden and Finland. The official Presidential Envoy Ibrahim Kalin and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sedat Önal represented the Republic of Turkey. At the end of negotiations, the Presidential Envoy stated that in response to Ankaras requirement to lift the restrictions on supplying military-purpose items, «positive signals» were received on behalf of the two Scandinavian countries. Let us remind here that in 2019 Helsinki and Stockholm laid an embargo on supplying weapons to Turkey due to it starting the cross-border military operation in the north of Syria against the pro-Kurdish Peoples Self-Defense (YPG).

At the same time, judging by some Turkish sources, the negotiations did not achieve any marked progress and finished without scheduling any continuation. «This is not an easy process», a high-ranking Turkish official said to Reuters. He added that Sweden and Finland had to undertake some «difficult steps» to win Ankaras support.

It is obvious that Turkey intends to claim the implementation of all its conditions in full. For example, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Ankara could not say «yes» to the NATO membership of Finland and Sweden, because could not believe them, when they assured that they would limit their connections with the Kurdistan Workers Party (KWP) banned in Turkey. According to the Turkish President, Ankara does not consider the accession of Stockholm and Helsinki to NATO positive, because «these two Scandinavian countries provide hospitable home for terrorists organizations». He is convinced that «the preceding administrations [of the Republic of Turkey A.G.], made a mistake with respect to Greece, the attitude of which to Turkey is well known». President Erdogan emphasized that his country did not want to make «another mistake on this issue».

In his turn, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, the Head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey, said that «an agreement in writing» with Sweden and Finland was needed «about specific steps» by these countries to stop their support of terrorism. He believes that just a statement especially on behalf of Swedish authorities about Stockholm not providing support from the standpoint of security and financial aid to Kurdish military and political organizations is not enough. The words of the Foreign Affairs Minister were accompanied by publications about the Turkish security forces during their raid in the caverns of Northern Iraq (where the KWP rebels were hiding) finding anti-tank grenade launchers AT-4 manufactured in Sweden.

It was also highlighted that Sweden decided to allocate USD 376 mln to support the pro-Kurdish Peoples Self-Defense (associated with KWP) in 2023, and that Stockholm already sent military equipment to them including anti-tank weapons and UAVs. Taking into account a difficult situation in South-East Turkey, the ongoing military operation «Claw-Lock» in Iraq and preparation of a new cross-border operation in Syria, the position of Ankara on aid provided to the pro-Kurdish groups by Scandinavian countries looks quite convincing and justified.

Hence, Turkey requires clear judicial guarantees from Stockholm and Helsinki about terminating their support of the organizations recognized as terrorists in Turkey, refuse from receiving the members of such organizations in their national parliaments and facilitate the procedure of extradition of terrorists at the request of Ankara (as of today, it pertains to 12 rebels in Finland and 21 in Sweden). And this concerns not just to pro-Kurdish groups. Ankara urges Sweden and Finland to stop their support of organizations and activists that the Turkish government charged with involvement in the military coup d'tat attempt  in 2016, especially of those being the members or in close affiliation with the Fethullahs Terrorist Organisation (FETÖ) headed by Fethullah Gülen (who is currently in the US).

For example, it is known that in October 2021, Sweden and Finland were among the 10 countries, the Ambassadors of which called for making free Osman Kavala, the Turkish human rights advocate placed under arrest for «the attempt to change the constitutional order and to dislodge the existing government». Immediately after this, Erdogan said that he instructed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to declare the Ambassadors of these countries «persona non grata». That diplomatic crisis was then settled only after the listed Embassies confirmed their commitment to the principles of Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and of non-interference with the internal affairs of Turkey. However, this situation left the unpleasant aftermath. Now Ankara received the opportunity for dictating its requirements to Scandinavian countries on the issues, which were left without any response for many years.

Turkish requirements to the USA and the EU countries

The USA is definitely the key stakeholder in the situation with Sweden and Finland accessing NATO. There are serious grounds to assume that Ankara is keeping its part of the bargain with Washington, as well. Information appeared that within the discussion of the accession of the two Scandinavian countries Turkey demanded to be repeatedly included into the program of manufacturing the 5th generation fighter plane F-35, to continue supplies of F-16 fighters and to lift all the sanctions imposed in connection with procurement of Russian air defense missile systems S-400.

In the context of the relations between Turkey and the US it is important to remember active interaction of the USA with the pro-Kurdish Peoples Self-Defense (YPG) groups in Syria and the concern expressed by Ankara on this topic numerous times. YPG groups are reported to be closely connected with KWP recognized as terrorist organization by both the US and the EU. Nevertheless, YPG is currently the key partner within the international anti-ISIS coalition headed by Washington (the Islamic State, or IS, is a terrorist organization banned in the RF). In the opinion of many Turkish experts, ideally the United States should terminate the «Big Kurdistan» project, which is a potential threat to the territorial integrity of Turkey.

Another specific feature of the current situation with the Turkeys position on the accession of Scandinavian countries to NATO is that Ankara uses the examples of Greece and France. It is known that these two countries some time ago exited NATO military organizations, but then resumed their membership. Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the approval of applications for return from Paris and Athens a big mistake emphasizing that this would never happen again. Today France and Greece have the biggest unresolvable contradictions with Turkey. Historical tensions, especially with Greece on delineation of Aegean and Mediterranean Seas water areas aggravated by the disputes around the gas fields, still persist and bear serious risks including the risk of war.

Let us remind here, that Greece exited the military part of NATO in 1974 on the grounds that there was no «proper» reaction on behalf of the Alliance to the Turkish operation on Cyprus. When Athens wanted to come back, Ankara was blocking the Greek application for a very long time. And only after the change of power in Turkey 1980, the ruling military junta gave the green light for Athenss re-joining NATO.

The situation with France was similar. When Charles de Gaulle was President in 1966, Paris exited the integrated military structure of NATO, and its fully-featured return to the Alliance took place only in April 2009. Then Ankara could claim as the «entry ticket» for France at least the renewal of the Customs Union between the EU and Turkey, or at most the rejection of the idea of applying the privileged partner status to Turkey proposed as an alternative to its final accession to the European Union. 

There is always room to negotiate

Let us take a look at another relatively recent crisis, when Ankara strongly opposed the appointment of the Prime Minister of Denmark Anders Fogh Rasmussen to the position of the Secretary General of NATO. Turkey did not forgive Rasmussen his position in 2006 during the scandal with the caricatures of Prophet Mohammed. After long negotiations Turkey received «by way of compensation» a number of critical positions both in political and military structures of the Alliance, and after that Turkey removed its objections with respect to Rasmussen nomination.

There is a good chance that the current crisis will be resolved according to the similar scenario. Let us note here that in his most recent statements Erdogan emphasized several times: Turkey will not feel favorable towards the accession of Scandinavian countries to NATO. However, his spokesman put forward the negotiations message saying «the door is not fully shut», and Turkish requirements need to be satisfied.

Many analysts believe that even though President Erdogan today is against the NATO membership for Finland and Sweden, he agrees to take part in the necessary consultations, so finally he will come to an agreement with his allies. Some experts say that Turkey will continue to exert pressure on Sweden until it revises its position at least with respect to KWP and its activities. Other experts think that Ankara will use the opportunity to enhance its role and status up to the maximum, as well as to remind its NATO allies about their own problems in the sphere of international and domestic security. Turkey is acting on the premise that brings to the security and defense capacity of the Alliance much more than it gets, hence, its tough stand with respect to NATO expansion. And it is impossible to ignore this position.

«Turkey has raised a number of issues in relation to NATO accession applications of Finland and Sweden. It is clear, that within this procedure different allies may raise various issues. Finland has active contacts with Turkey at different levels, and this spring I personally visited it twice. We strive for continuation of our constructive dialogue, we are ready to discuss all the open issues», Pukka Haavisto, the Finnish Foreign Affairs Minister said after his meeting with Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State.

Possible scenarios going forward

In that way or another, the situation should clear up no later than the end of the next NATO summit scheduled for 29-30 June 2022 in Madrid. However, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg emphasized that Finland and Sweden will not be able to acquire the status of candidates for the accession if they do not satisfy the demands of Turkey.

Theoretically, the following scenarios are possible:

  1. Sweden and Finland fully comply with the Turkish requirements, and the procedure of their accession to NATO is launched;
  2. Sweden and Finland partially comply with the Turkish requirements, the US and other member countries achieve certain compromise with Ankara in security sphere;
  3. A new position is introduced in NATO leadership «for Turkey» similar to 2010, when the position of Deputy Secretary General for planning the military policy of Alliance in the planets flash points was established, and the Turkish President advisor on foreign affairs was appointed to it;
  4. Sweden and Finland do not comply with the Turkish requirements. The situation comes to a deadlock. NATO faces the systemic crisis.

Under any scenario, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the President of Turkey, will have the final word.

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Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies
Publications

Erdogans factor: more on accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO

photo: cdn.iha.com.tr
27 2022
Amur Gadzhiyev

Amur Gadzhiyev

Candidate of historical sciences, CISS expert

On 26 May 2022, Recep Tayyip Erdogan chaired the extraordinary session of the National Security Council (NSC). The main topics on the agenda were the new military operation in Syria targeted at completing the creation of the 30 km deep security zone at the southern borders of Turkey, and the accession to NATO of Sweden and Finland.

The published statement based on the outcomes of the NSC session emphasized: Turkey inalterably follows the spirit and the letter of international alliances laws, and expects the same level of commitment and openness from its allies. «Ankara appeals to the countries violating the international law by supporting terrorism to put an end to such practices and account for our concerns in the security sphere», the NSC stated addressing Sweden and Finland, as the Republic of Turkey is against their accession to NATO. It means that Ankara explains its position by arguing that the country sponsoring terrorism cannot become a NATO member.

We should note from the very beginning that Turkey supports the «open doors» policy of NATO, to which it is a member starting from 1952. In the post-cold-war period, Ankara actively promoted the accession of the former Warsaw Treaty members to the North Atlantic alliance both in 1999 and in 2004. Turkey has no objection raised as a matter of principle against NATO expansion per se, however, it has heavy claims against certain countries members of the alliance.

The essence of the Turkish claims

On 18 May 2022, Finland and Sweden passed their official applications for accession to Jens Stoltenberg, the incumbent Secretary General of NATO. However, Ankara immediately blocked the start of the process of reviewing the above-mentioned applications having put forth the following three conditions: these Scandinavian countries should stop supporting the Kurdish groups (which Turkey considers terrorists), clear security guarantees should be provided, all sorts of export bans should be cancelled for Turkey.

The above-mentioned statement of the National Security Council provides some evidence of reaching certain agreement on the last issue between Turkey and the accession candidates. Let us note that one day before the NSC session Turkey held negotiations with representatives of Sweden and Finland. The official Presidential Envoy Ibrahim Kalin and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sedat Önal represented the Republic of Turkey. At the end of negotiations, the Presidential Envoy stated that in response to Ankaras requirement to lift the restrictions on supplying military-purpose items, «positive signals» were received on behalf of the two Scandinavian countries. Let us remind here that in 2019 Helsinki and Stockholm laid an embargo on supplying weapons to Turkey due to it starting the cross-border military operation in the north of Syria against the pro-Kurdish Peoples Self-Defense (YPG).

At the same time, judging by some Turkish sources, the negotiations did not achieve any marked progress and finished without scheduling any continuation. «This is not an easy process», a high-ranking Turkish official said to Reuters. He added that Sweden and Finland had to undertake some «difficult steps» to win Ankaras support.

It is obvious that Turkey intends to claim the implementation of all its conditions in full. For example, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Ankara could not say «yes» to the NATO membership of Finland and Sweden, because could not believe them, when they assured that they would limit their connections with the Kurdistan Workers Party (KWP) banned in Turkey. According to the Turkish President, Ankara does not consider the accession of Stockholm and Helsinki to NATO positive, because «these two Scandinavian countries provide hospitable home for terrorists organizations». He is convinced that «the preceding administrations [of the Republic of Turkey A.G.], made a mistake with respect to Greece, the attitude of which to Turkey is well known». President Erdogan emphasized that his country did not want to make «another mistake on this issue».

In his turn, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, the Head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey, said that «an agreement in writing» with Sweden and Finland was needed «about specific steps» by these countries to stop their support of terrorism. He believes that just a statement especially on behalf of Swedish authorities about Stockholm not providing support from the standpoint of security and financial aid to Kurdish military and political organizations is not enough. The words of the Foreign Affairs Minister were accompanied by publications about the Turkish security forces during their raid in the caverns of Northern Iraq (where the KWP rebels were hiding) finding anti-tank grenade launchers AT-4 manufactured in Sweden.

It was also highlighted that Sweden decided to allocate USD 376 mln to support the pro-Kurdish Peoples Self-Defense (associated with KWP) in 2023, and that Stockholm already sent military equipment to them including anti-tank weapons and UAVs. Taking into account a difficult situation in South-East Turkey, the ongoing military operation «Claw-Lock» in Iraq and preparation of a new cross-border operation in Syria, the position of Ankara on aid provided to the pro-Kurdish groups by Scandinavian countries looks quite convincing and justified.

Hence, Turkey requires clear judicial guarantees from Stockholm and Helsinki about terminating their support of the organizations recognized as terrorists in Turkey, refuse from receiving the members of such organizations in their national parliaments and facilitate the procedure of extradition of terrorists at the request of Ankara (as of today, it pertains to 12 rebels in Finland and 21 in Sweden). And this concerns not just to pro-Kurdish groups. Ankara urges Sweden and Finland to stop their support of organizations and activists that the Turkish government charged with involvement in the military coup d'tat attempt  in 2016, especially of those being the members or in close affiliation with the Fethullahs Terrorist Organisation (FETÖ) headed by Fethullah Gülen (who is currently in the US).

For example, it is known that in October 2021, Sweden and Finland were among the 10 countries, the Ambassadors of which called for making free Osman Kavala, the Turkish human rights advocate placed under arrest for «the attempt to change the constitutional order and to dislodge the existing government». Immediately after this, Erdogan said that he instructed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to declare the Ambassadors of these countries «persona non grata». That diplomatic crisis was then settled only after the listed Embassies confirmed their commitment to the principles of Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and of non-interference with the internal affairs of Turkey. However, this situation left the unpleasant aftermath. Now Ankara received the opportunity for dictating its requirements to Scandinavian countries on the issues, which were left without any response for many years.

Turkish requirements to the USA and the EU countries

The USA is definitely the key stakeholder in the situation with Sweden and Finland accessing NATO. There are serious grounds to assume that Ankara is keeping its part of the bargain with Washington, as well. Information appeared that within the discussion of the accession of the two Scandinavian countries Turkey demanded to be repeatedly included into the program of manufacturing the 5th generation fighter plane F-35, to continue supplies of F-16 fighters and to lift all the sanctions imposed in connection with procurement of Russian air defense missile systems S-400.

In the context of the relations between Turkey and the US it is important to remember active interaction of the USA with the pro-Kurdish Peoples Self-Defense (YPG) groups in Syria and the concern expressed by Ankara on this topic numerous times. YPG groups are reported to be closely connected with KWP recognized as terrorist organization by both the US and the EU. Nevertheless, YPG is currently the key partner within the international anti-ISIS coalition headed by Washington (the Islamic State, or IS, is a terrorist organization banned in the RF). In the opinion of many Turkish experts, ideally the United States should terminate the «Big Kurdistan» project, which is a potential threat to the territorial integrity of Turkey.

Another specific feature of the current situation with the Turkeys position on the accession of Scandinavian countries to NATO is that Ankara uses the examples of Greece and France. It is known that these two countries some time ago exited NATO military organizations, but then resumed their membership. Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the approval of applications for return from Paris and Athens a big mistake emphasizing that this would never happen again. Today France and Greece have the biggest unresolvable contradictions with Turkey. Historical tensions, especially with Greece on delineation of Aegean and Mediterranean Seas water areas aggravated by the disputes around the gas fields, still persist and bear serious risks including the risk of war.

Let us remind here, that Greece exited the military part of NATO in 1974 on the grounds that there was no «proper» reaction on behalf of the Alliance to the Turkish operation on Cyprus. When Athens wanted to come back, Ankara was blocking the Greek application for a very long time. And only after the change of power in Turkey 1980, the ruling military junta gave the green light for Athenss re-joining NATO.

The situation with France was similar. When Charles de Gaulle was President in 1966, Paris exited the integrated military structure of NATO, and its fully-featured return to the Alliance took place only in April 2009. Then Ankara could claim as the «entry ticket» for France at least the renewal of the Customs Union between the EU and Turkey, or at most the rejection of the idea of applying the privileged partner status to Turkey proposed as an alternative to its final accession to the European Union. 

There is always room to negotiate

Let us take a look at another relatively recent crisis, when Ankara strongly opposed the appointment of the Prime Minister of Denmark Anders Fogh Rasmussen to the position of the Secretary General of NATO. Turkey did not forgive Rasmussen his position in 2006 during the scandal with the caricatures of Prophet Mohammed. After long negotiations Turkey received «by way of compensation» a number of critical positions both in political and military structures of the Alliance, and after that Turkey removed its objections with respect to Rasmussen nomination.

There is a good chance that the current crisis will be resolved according to the similar scenario. Let us note here that in his most recent statements Erdogan emphasized several times: Turkey will not feel favorable towards the accession of Scandinavian countries to NATO. However, his spokesman put forward the negotiations message saying «the door is not fully shut», and Turkish requirements need to be satisfied.

Many analysts believe that even though President Erdogan today is against the NATO membership for Finland and Sweden, he agrees to take part in the necessary consultations, so finally he will come to an agreement with his allies. Some experts say that Turkey will continue to exert pressure on Sweden until it revises its position at least with respect to KWP and its activities. Other experts think that Ankara will use the opportunity to enhance its role and status up to the maximum, as well as to remind its NATO allies about their own problems in the sphere of international and domestic security. Turkey is acting on the premise that brings to the security and defense capacity of the Alliance much more than it gets, hence, its tough stand with respect to NATO expansion. And it is impossible to ignore this position.

«Turkey has raised a number of issues in relation to NATO accession applications of Finland and Sweden. It is clear, that within this procedure different allies may raise various issues. Finland has active contacts with Turkey at different levels, and this spring I personally visited it twice. We strive for continuation of our constructive dialogue, we are ready to discuss all the open issues», Pukka Haavisto, the Finnish Foreign Affairs Minister said after his meeting with Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State.

Possible scenarios going forward

In that way or another, the situation should clear up no later than the end of the next NATO summit scheduled for 29-30 June 2022 in Madrid. However, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg emphasized that Finland and Sweden will not be able to acquire the status of candidates for the accession if they do not satisfy the demands of Turkey.

Theoretically, the following scenarios are possible:

  1. Sweden and Finland fully comply with the Turkish requirements, and the procedure of their accession to NATO is launched;
  2. Sweden and Finland partially comply with the Turkish requirements, the US and other member countries achieve certain compromise with Ankara in security sphere;
  3. A new position is introduced in NATO leadership «for Turkey» similar to 2010, when the position of Deputy Secretary General for planning the military policy of Alliance in the planets flash points was established, and the Turkish President advisor on foreign affairs was appointed to it;
  4. Sweden and Finland do not comply with the Turkish requirements. The situation comes to a deadlock. NATO faces the systemic crisis.

Under any scenario, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the President of Turkey, will have the final word.