Turkish flag next to the NATO logo at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on 26 November 2019. (Photo credit: Reuters)
Delegations from Sweden and Finland arrived in Turkey on 25 May in an effort to persuade Ankara to end its opposition to efforts by the two countries to become NATO members.
Turkey cites the support that the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) receives from Sweden and Finland as the main reason for blocking their ascension to NATO, which requires a unanimous vote of all member states in order to join.
The PKK, along with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) – the backbone of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – are considered terrorist organizations by Ankara, who justifies its military presence in Syria and Iraq as a means of fighting these groups.
The Turkish delegation consists of Presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalın and Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Önal, who will meet with Swedish Secretary of State Oscar Stenström and the Finnish Foreign Ministry’s permanent state secretary Jukka Salovaara.
On 24 May, Sweden denied that it provides military or financial support to terrorist groups. “Sweden is a major humanitarian donor to the Syria crisis through global allocations to humanitarian actors,” said Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde.
“Cooperation in northeastern Syria is carried out primarily through the United Nations and international organizations,” she added.
Ankara alleges that Sweden has approved a plan to provide $376 million to the YPG in 2023, and that they have previously provided military equipment to them.
Sweden also imposes sanctions against Turkey.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, speaking to the World Economic Forum in Davos on 24 May, stated “we have very strict rules on any terrorist acts or any terrorist preparations in our country, and we take very seriously those limitations and rules also (set) by the European Union.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on 23 May that he expects his NATO allies to take “concrete steps” to address Turkey’s security concerns, instead of making “inadequate statements.”
On the same day, Erdogan announced efforts to establish a 30-kilometer “safe zone” along the Turkish-Syrian borders, which would involve confrontations with US-backed Kurdish forces in northern Syria.
The US expressed concerns on 24 May that Turkey’s plan for an offensive could undermine regional stability and put US troops at risk.
“We recognize Turkey’s legitimate security concerns on Turkey’s southern border, but any new offensive would further undermine regional stability and put at risk US forces and the coalition’s campaign against ISIS,” US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.
Despite being a NATO member state and supplying the Ukrainian army with Turkish-made drones, Ankara has tried to balance its relationship with Moscow since the start of the special military operation in Ukraine, and has made sure not to fully join the side of Russia’s adversaries.
Turkey has hosted several negotiations between Russian and Ukrainian officials and has publicly condemned the excessive approach by the west in boycotting Russian arts, literature, culture, and language.
However, Ankara has also been working with Israel to establish an alternative route for energy exports to reach Europe.
Hundreds of fighters from militant groups, such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda, have been transported to Ukraine from Syria using Turkey as a transit point between the two countries.