Sunday June 16, 2024

Turkey postpones Nato talks with Sweden, Finland

January 25, 2023

ISTANBUL: Turkey on Tuesday postponed Nato accession talks with Sweden and Finland, further denting the Nordic neighbours´ hopes of joining the Western defence alliance after Russia´s invasion of Ukraine.

Ankara announced its decision one day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Sweden for allowing weekend protests that included the desecration of the Holy Quran outside Ankara´s Stockholm embassy.

A Turkish diplomatic source said the tri-party meeting has been pushed back from February to a “later date”, without providing any details. The decision further diminished the chances of the two countries joining Nato before Turkey´s May presidential and parliamentary elections. Sweden´s prime minister immediately called “for reflection, for calm in the process so that we can return to functioning talks between Sweden, Finland and Turkey”.

Ulf Kristersson said there were “provocateurs who wanted to spoil Sweden´s relations with other countries” and foil its bid to join the US-led Western military alliance. “No national security question is more important than that we, with Finland, quickly become members of Nato,” Kristersson said.

Finland, which shares a 1,300-km border with Russia, and Sweden, decided jointly to end their decades-long policies of military non-alignment, winning formal support for their plans at a historic Nato summit in June.

Their bids were then swiftly ratified by 28 of Nato´s 30 member states, highlighting the issues´ urgency in the face of Russia´s aggression. Bids to join Nato must be approved by all members of the alliance, of which Turkey is a member. But Erdogan has dug in his heels heading into a close presidential election in which he is trying to energise his nationalist electoral base.

Erdogan´s resistance prompted Finland to hint it may try to join on its own because of Stockholm´s problems with Ankara. “We have to assess the situation, whether something has happened that in the longer term would prevent Sweden from going ahead,” Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told broadcaster Yle.

Sweden´s Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said he was “in contact with Finland to find out what this really means”. Haavisto later clarified his comments, saying he did not want to “speculate” on Finland joining alone “as both countries seem to be making progress”, and emphasised their commitment to a joint application.

But “of course, somewhere in the back of our minds, we are thinking about different worlds where some countries would be permanently barred from membership”, he said. Swedish leaders have roundly condemned the burning of the Holy Quran but defended their country´s broad definition of free speech.

The incident came just weeks after a support group for armed Kurdish groups in Syria, the Rojava Committee, hung an effigy of Erdogan by the ankles in front of Stockholm City Hall, sparking outrage in Ankara.