A day earlier, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that recent protests in Stockholm by an anti-Islam activist and another by pro-Kurdish groups could jeopardize Sweden’s bid, and NATO diplomats are increasingly less confident that the two countries will soon be welcomed.
Finland and Sweden have asked to join the 30-member military alliance in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Last spring, they formally submitted their applications together and generally worked together. Their membership would double NATO’s land border with Russia and reshape European security.
But their offer has been blocked, mainly by objections from Turkey, which blocked the first accession negotiations. Turkey then struck a deal so that business could continue. Now it again threatens to derail – or at least significantly delay – the process and undermine NATO unity amid Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Allowing non-NATO countries to join the alliance requires the agreement of member countries, and Hungary and Turkey are the only countries that have not ratified the joint bids. Hungary has indicated it will do so, but Turkey has not, dampening hopes that the two countries could be welcomed as members at the 2023 NATO summit in July.
While this is the first time that Finland seems to be opening the door to moving forward without Sweden, Haavisto’s comment doesn’t seem to indicate an official change of position – at least not yet.
After the comment made headlines, including in Sweden, he told Finnish reporters he had been “inaccurate” and reiterated his hope that the countries would join NATO together, according to the Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat.
Top NATO officials, including Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, have urged Turkey to move forward, arguing that division and delay are a gift to Russian President Vladimir Putin and a danger to the alliance.
“It’s time to welcome Finland and Sweden as members of NATO,” Stoltenberg said at a press conference with Turkey’s foreign minister in the fall. Ratification, he added, is key to preventing “misunderstanding or miscalculation in Moscow”.
Despite pleas from allies, Turkey has continued to put pressure on Sweden. And recent protests, including the burning of a Quran, seem to have deepened the deadlock.
Erdogan on Monday denounced Swedish authorities for allowing the demonstration. “It is clear that those who have caused such disgrace to our country’s embassy can no longer expect any benevolence from us regarding their NATO membership applications,” he said Monday.
Erdogan also criticized Stockholm for allowing protesters in a separate demonstration to wave flags of Kurdish groups, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which Turkey and others consider a terrorist group.
“You have terrorist organizations roaming wildly in your streets and avenues and then you expect us to support them in joining NATO? There’s no such thing. Don’t expect such support from us,” he said.
Swedish officials have defended the public’s right to protest.
Zeynep Karatas in Istanbul contributed to this report.
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