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Why is Erdogan uneasy on allowing Finland, Sweden into NATO?

Seeking action against PKK in Sweden, Finland may not be the only goal for Erdogan

erdogan reuters Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan | Reuters

Amid the furore in Europe over the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the entry of Sweden and Finland to NATO was considered a mere formality.

But the stance adopted by Turkey has cast doubts about the bids of Helsinki and Stockholm. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that Sweden and Finland need not send envoys to convince him on the issue of supporting their entry to NATO.

Erdogan was quoted by AP as saying “Are they coming to try and convince us? Sorry don´t wear yourselves out... During this process, we cannot say ‘yes’ to those who impose sanctions on Turkey, on joining NATO, which is a security organization.”

He had said “Neither country has an open, clear stance against terrorist organizations.” Erdogan's angst against the two liberal European nations was related to their support to members of the Kurdistan Workers´ Party (PKK), which Turkey calls a terrorist group. Sweden has welcomed hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East, including ethnic Kurds from Iraq, Syria and Turkey.

The two nations had imposed sanctions, including restrictions on supply of military equipment, on Turkey for its military involvement in Syria. Interestingly, on Saturday, a spokesperson for Erdogan had said Turkey was “not closing the door” on them but raising its security concerns. Ibrahim Kalin, a foreign policy adviser for Erdogan, told Reuters the PKK was actively recruiting in the US and EU, including in Sweden where its presence was “strong and open and acknowledged”. Kalin argued “What needs to be done is clear: They have to stop allowing PKK outlets, activities, organisations, individuals and other types of presence to... exist in those countries.”

But seeking action against the PKK in Sweden and Finland may not be the only goal Erdogan has in mind. As Erdogan prepares for a decisive presidential election next year, he faces the daunting task of boosting the flagging Turkish economy and rebuilding his image as an international statesman.

While the US has not been receptive to Turkey's economic needs, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and the need to rejig NATO gives Erdogan a new lever to push his demands with the Biden administration. Another factor seems to be arms sales: A commentary in Turkey's Ahval News claimed “Erdogan needs to convince Washington to allow him to buy a large number of upgraded F-16 fighter jets.” Ahval News also claimed Erdogan is unhappy with the fact that Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was invited to meet Biden this week and address the US Congress.

An article in the European Council of Foreign Relations (ECFR) on Monday argued Erdogan was posturing on the issue of NATO entry for Sweden and Finland. “Europe’s strategic landscape is changing fast, and Turkey, increasingly seeing itself as a friendless loner, does not want to be caught in crossfire,” the ECFR commentary said.

“In all likelihood, Erdogan will soften his stance in the coming weeks following pleas from NATO partners,” the commentary said.


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