Turkey paves the way for Finland to join NATO
Turkey, which has been blocking the approval of Finland’s application to join NATO since the summer of 2022, is ready to vote in parliament on its ratification before the general elections in the country on May 14, 2023. This was announced on March 17 following talks in Istanbul with Finnish President Sauli Niiniste leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan. If the application is approved by the Turkish parliament, Helsinki may join the alliance by the summer of this year - already at the end of March, the parliament of another member of the alliance that did not approve the application, Hungary, should vote on ratification. Finland's application has so far been approved by 28 out of 30 NATO countries.
But Ankara will not vote for the ratification of Sweden's application for NATO membership. Stockholm, according to the Turkish authorities, has not complied with the requirements to extradite supporters and members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK, recognized as terrorist in Turkey) and limit support for pro-Kurdish formations in Syria. Ankara also wanted the extradition of supporters of the preacher Fethullah Gülen, whom Turkey considers responsible for the coup attempt in 2016.
“We have decided to launch a protocol on Finland's accession to NATO in our parliament,” Erdogan said on March 17, citing Helsinki's efforts to fulfill its promises under a memorandum signed in Madrid last June (quoted by the Daily Sabah).
For his part, Niiniste welcomed Turkey's decision. “Earlier, we understood that you had made a decision, and its signing today confirms that the Turkish parliament will begin work on the ratification of Finland's membership,” he said.
At the same time, Niiniste noted that he "has a feeling that Finland's NATO bid is not complete without Sweden" (quoted by Yle).
In addition, the National Assembly of Hungary on March 27 will also vote on the ratification of Finland's membership in NATO, said the representative of the Hungarian government Zoltan Kovacs on his Twitter on the evening of March 17. Initially, the approximate voting date was from March 6 to 9, but then the voting was postponed, according to the country's prime minister, Viktor Orban, due to the spread of "blatant lies" about Budapest in Helsinki and Stockholm.
On March 15, Erdogan already suggested that Turkey might soon ratify Finland's NATO bid, allowing the country to join a military alliance separate from Sweden. “We will do our part. We will keep our promise. We'll meet the president [Ниинисте] on Friday and keep our promise,” he said (quoted by AP).
On the same day, Niiniste told reporters that he was "in close contact" with the Turkish president, who had "strengthened" over the past few days. “It was known that as soon as President Erdogan, for his part, decides to ratify Finland's membership in NATO, he will wish to meet and fulfill his promise directly from president to president,” said Niiniste (quoted by the press service of the President of Finland).
Following the summit in Madrid on June 29, 2022, NATO announced a decision to invite Finland and Sweden to join the alliance. This NATO expansion was previously blocked by Turkey, which accused the two countries of supporting Kurdish groups and Gülen supporters. Sweden and Finland pledged in a special memorandum not to support the PKK, the Kurdish YPG/YPD in northern Syria, and the Gülen organization, but only the PKK was named terrorist in the document.
On November 3 of the same year, Erdogan complained that Sweden and Finland had not extradited a single Kurdish terrorist to Turkey. And on December 22, Turkey announced that it was demanding the extradition of 42 people from Sweden alone, increasing the list by 9 people. In early January 2023, Swedish Permanent Representative to the EU Lars Danielsson said that negotiations with Turkey to approve the application for NATO membership had stalled. And Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson has announced that Stockholm will not make any further concessions to Turkey regarding the extradition of Kurds and persons associated with Gülen.
Against this background, at the end of January 2023, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said that Helsinki admits the possibility of further consideration of the country's application to join NATO without Sweden, although they would still hope to enter the alliance together.
On January 20, the Swedish Ambassador in Ankara was summoned to the Turkish Foreign Ministry in connection with a demonstration of supporters of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) planned for January 21 in Stockholm. Prior to this, on January 11, supporters of the PKK held a rally with a dummy resembling Erdogan hung upside down near the city hall by its feet. And on January 21, in front of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm, the leader of the Hard Deal party, Rasmus Paludan, held a rally with a public burning of the Koran.
Then Erdogan sharply criticized the Swedish authorities, who allowed this action to be carried out, calling the incident an insult not only to Muslims, but also “in general, to all people, human rights and freedoms.” "You continue to support terrorists [Курдской рабочей партии] and waiting for support to join NATO. This will not work. Sweden should no longer expect this support from us,” he said on 24 January.
Already on January 30, Erdogan said that Turkey could make different decisions on applications for NATO membership by Sweden and Finland, if the latter "does not repeat the mistakes" of Stockholm. On March 1, Finnish deputies approved a bill on the country's accession to NATO (supported by 184 deputies out of 200). On 21 March, Kristersson acknowledged that the likelihood of Finland joining NATO on its own had "increased".
In relations between Finland and Turkey, in contrast to the relations of the latter with Sweden, there is practically no destabilizing Kurdish factor, explains Aleksey Volkov, a leading researcher at IMEMO RAS. In his opinion, it is obvious that Washington put pressure on Ankara to make progress, at least in relation to at least one Scandinavian country that wants to join NATO, and, importantly, directly bordering Russia. Volkov connects with American influence the fact that the Finns, as a result, de facto no longer persist in their intention to enter into an alliance with the Swedes, and the latter are in no hurry to respond to the uneven progress on this track.
When Sweden and Finland signed a memorandum with Turkey on the Kurds and Gülen’s followers in June 2022, Ankara extended the negative that was laid down in relation to Stockholm to Helsinki, says Amur Hajiyev, researcher at the Turkish sector of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Now, according to him, the negative remained exclusively on the Swedish side, and the Turkish side has every right to say that it has no claims against Helsinki.
The Swedes, despite their desire to join NATO, continue to behave quite provocatively, allowing the actions of the PKK followers to be carried out, and also not handing over most of the people whom Ankara demands to be handed over for trial, Hajiyev notes.