Finland, Sweden at Turkey’s whim after submitting NATO bids

Finland, Sweden at Turkey’s whim after submitting NATO bids

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg poses during a ceremony to mark Sweden’s and Finland’s application for membership in Brussels on Wednesday. (AFP photo)

NATO received formal membership bids from Finland and Sweden as Russia’s war in Ukraine reshapes European defence, but the Nordic nations must first overcome opposition from Turkey.

“This is a good day at a critical moment for our security,” the alliance’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, told reporters. “This is a historic moment which we should seize.”

Membership requires unanimous agreement among alliance members, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday signalled he wouldn’t allow the Nordic nations to join, alleging they support Kurdish militants his government regards as terrorists.

For the first step, all 30 NATO ambassadors must agree to proceed with the application, after which Sweden and Finland could start accession talks with the alliance. Diplomats are expected to convene Wednesday, but it’s unclear when a decision may be taken, according to people familiar with the matter.

Turkey is engaged in talks with Sweden and Finland, and NATO members say they’re confident the Turkish concerns can be overcome.

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said on Tuesday that he’s in daily contact with Turkish diplomats, and that a meeting in person will be arranged “when the time comes”.

Speaking in an interview on Finland’s YLE TV1, Haavisto called Turkey’s move “a test” of “whether NATO’s open-door policy exists” and signalled that “undemocratic practices, such as oppression, blackmail” aren’t fitting for “an alliance of democratic countries”.

Bringing Sweden and Finland into NATO would fortify the alliance’s defence in the northeast and would mark the biggest shift in Europe’s security landscape to emerge since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The traditionally non-aligned countries boast NATO-standard militaries with strong navies and growing defence budgets, as well as major air power.

Finland was driven into the fold of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization by Russia’s Feb 24 invasion of Ukraine, and pulled neighbouring Sweden along. The attack shifted popular opinion overnight in both countries, with policy makers rapidly kicking off the process to join, even as Russia has kept warning the pair with potential consequences.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, who is traveling to Washington, D.C. on Thursday with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, said he’s “optimistic” Turkey’s stance can be “managed through discussions”.