May 13, 2022 - World

Erdoğan says Turkey does not support Finland and Sweden joining NATO

Erdogan
Photo: Kenzo Triboullard/AFP via Getty Images

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Friday that his government does not support Finland and Sweden joining NATO, claiming the Scandinavian countries are home to Kurdish "terrorist organizations."

Why it matters: A formal objection by Turkey would derail Finland and Sweden's expected NATO applications, which must be approved by all 30 NATO allies. Finland's leaders on Thursday officially expressed support for applying to NATO "without delay," while Sweden's ruling party is expected to follow suit on Sunday.

What they're saying: "We are following the developments regarding Sweden and Finland, but we are not of a favorable opinion," Erdoğan told reporters in Istanbul, according to AP.

  • Erdoğan said Turkey would not repeat the same "mistake" it made by allowing Greece to rejoin NATO's military wing in 1980, arguing that Athens has used the alliance against Turkey in the two countries' maritime dispute.
  • "Furthermore, Scandinavian countries are guesthouses for terrorist organizations," Erdoğan said, according to Reuters. "They are even members of the parliament in some countries. It is not possible for us to be in favor."

The latest: Sweden and Finland's foreign ministers said they would meet with their Turkish counterpart to discuss the issue at a NATO ministerial meeting in Berlin over the weekend.

  • The State Department's top Europe official Karen Donfried also told reporters on a call Friday that the U.S. is "working to clarify Turkey’s position," adding: “It’s not clear to me that Turkey is saying they will oppose."

Between the lines: Turkey considers the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and its offshoots — including militias that worked with the U.S. to defeat ISIS in Syria — to be terrorist organizations.

  • Sweden is home to a sizable Kurdish population, and like other Western allies has remained supportive of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
  • Turkey has been fighting armed Kurdish insurgents for decades, and launched an operation against Syrian Kurds in 2019 to create a "buffer zone" in northeastern Syria after former President Trump moved U.S. troops out of the area.

The big picture: Turkey is the only NATO ally so far to suggest it may oppose Finland and Sweden's accession.

  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has previously said the countries would be "welcomed with open arms" and rapidly integrated into the alliance.

What to watch: Ahead of its likely decision to support a NATO application in the coming days, the Swedish government issued a security analysis finding that NATO membership would reduce the chances of a military conflict in northern Europe

  • The report also warned that Russia could retaliate with hybrid threats like cyberattacks, disinformation and incursions into Swedish airspace.
  • Russia's foreign ministry warned Finland after its announcement supporting NATO membership that Moscow would respond with "military-technical" steps to protect its national security.
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