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Erdoğan gains new concessions by ending veto on Swedish and Finnish NATO membership

Erdoğan

Opinion

Erdoğan gains new concessions by ending veto on Swedish and Finnish NATO membership

Erdoğan planned to use the NATO summit to end Scandinavian support for Kurdish groups in Syria and to lambast Greece. Writes Paul Antonopoulos

Having initially opposed Finland and Sweden joining NATO, Turkey capitulated to significant pressure on June 28 and abandoned its position after coming to a compromise with the two Scandinavian countries. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan planned to use the NATO summit to end Scandinavian support for Kurdish groups in Syria and to lambast Greece. Although the latter did not happen, Erdoğan did secure the end of Finnish and Swedish support for the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

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Gaining NATO membership in 1952, at the same time as Greece, Turkey traditionally does not hesitate to raise conflicting opinions within the bloc to serve its interests. It is recalled that in 2009, as an example, Erdoğan objected to former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen being appointed as NATO secretary general for his sympathy to the Kurds. Then in the midst of strained relations with Israel, Ankara prevented NATO from meeting with the country for six years.

In every major geopolitical development, Turkey attempts to find a way to gain advantages, even if the issue seemingly has nothing to do with the main focus of the time. Take for example how Turkey very openly said it planned to raise its issues with Greece at a meeting that mostly revolved around the potential NATO membership of two northern European countries.

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Therefore, when Turkey protests, it means that something has to be exchanged. This time, Turkey secured an end for Finnish and Swedish support to Kurdish militias, as well as lifting the ban on arms deliveries to the country. Ankara recognizes the PKK as a terrorist group, while Stockholm traditionally considers them a national movement. When Turkey launched a military operation against Syria in 2019, Finland and Sweden voiced its opposition and introduced a ban on arms deliveries to Turkey.

It is important to note that Ankara protests not for the sake of protesting to disrupt NATO, but to demand what it wants in return. At the NATO Summit, Erdoğan shook hands with the representatives of the two Scandinavian countries and reached an agreement on the Kurdish issue and the lifting of the ban on arms shipments – Sweden has a thriving arms business.

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Although Ankara’s opposition to Helsinki and Stockholm’s accession to NATO was advantageous to Moscow, there is little doubt that decisionmakers in the Kremlin would have anticipated that it would only be a matter of time until Turkey abandoned its position after it gained some kind of concession. None-the-less, Russia has warned that the accession of Sweden and Finland could endanger its interests and security and will react accordingly.

The reality is that Sweden and Finland have effectively been NATO members in all but title. The relationship between the two Scandinavian countries and NATO has been very close and joining the bloc is just a formalization step.

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Erdoğan’s change of decision coincided with his long-awaited meeting with US President Joe Biden, who for his part assured his backing for Turkey to purchase upgraded F-16 fighter jets. Although Biden has backed the initiative, Turkey will still have a long battle with Congress to have the purchases approved, a seemingly unlikely prospect at this moment in time.

Turkey has the second-largest military force in the NATO alliance and is geographically important. It is also one of the most important NATO members as it is the only country that has the potential to completely blockade Russia in the Black Sea. Turkey is fully aware of the leverage it possesses, and thus NATO is forced to listen to its concerns and/or demands.

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Given the current domestic political situation with Erdoğan’s declining popularity and rising poverty, he is trying to gain back support by claiming a huge victory on the international stage. However, political opponents, including in the media sphere, did not hesitate to criticize the Turkish president for capitulating on the NATO membership issue.

The President of the Good Party (IYI), Meral Akşener, described the development as a “concession incompatible with Turkey’s interests”; Özgür Özel, MP of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), said what Erdoğan says “has no value anymore”; and, the Sözcü newspaper wrote: “What did you get that you swallowed your words?”.

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The main issue they had is that Erdoğan did not challenge Greece’s sovereignty over the Aegean islands as he had promised to do prior to the NATO summit. But demanding the demilitarization of the Aegean islands or discussions over the legitimacy of Greece’s sovereignty was something that the NATO organization was never going to entertain.

In this way, Erdoğan’s veto against Finland and Sweden could be seen as a cheap political play to prop up his declining popularity by gaining an easy victory over the PKK, no matter how limited or little the Swedish and Finnish support for the Kurdish militias actually was. Although the Turkish president could not pander to the most aggressive ultra-nationalists by once again raising ridiculous claims over the Greek islands, any kind of advancement against the Kurds is seen as a major victory by large segments of Turkish society.

Paul Antonopoulos, independent geopolitical analyst.

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Blitz’s Editorial Board is responsible for the stories published under this byline. This includes editorials, news stories, letters to the editor, and multimedia features on BLiTZ

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