Jan 23, 2024 - World

Turkey approves Sweden's NATO membership

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in Lithuania in July 2023.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson next to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in Lithuania in July 2023. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT NEWS AGENCY/AFP via Getty Images

Turkey's parliament on Tuesday approved Sweden's accession to NATO roughly a year and a half after Stockholm applied to join the alliance in response to Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, multiple outlets reported.

Why it matters: Sweden will be one step closer to joining the defensive alliance once Turkish President Recep Erdoğan signs the legislation. It would leave only Hungary left to approve Sweden's membership, which requires a unanimous vote from all NATO members.

  • Sweden officially joining the alliance would be another major blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has claimed that Moscow invaded Ukraine in hopes of blocking the alliance's eastward expansion.

The big picture: Galvanized by Russia's invasion, Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO in May 2022, marking a major reversal in both country's historical military non-alignment.

  • While Finland went on to officially join the alliance as its 31st member in April 2023, Sweden's bid has faced several delays.
  • Turkey initially opposed both Sweden's and Finland's memberships, claiming the countries were protecting Kurdish groups that Ankara deemed terrorists.
  • It also specifically opposed Sweden's membership after far-right protesters burned a Quran outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm in 2023. Sweden said Russian-backed actors had spread misinformation around the burnings to damage its bid and sow division.

Of note: Erdoğan dropped his opposition last summer and publicly said he would support Sweden's accession.

  • Turkey had linked its approval of Sweden's membership to its request to purchase F-16 fighter jets from the United States and the removal of trade embargos imposed on it by Canada and other NATO members, AP reports.

What to watch: Though Hungary has claimed it did not want to be the last to approve of Sweden's membership, it's now the final NATO member left to decide.

  • Hungary's parliament is in recess until February, the earliest it could vote on the decision.
  • Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who is widely seen as the most pro-Russian leader in the European Union, on Tuesday invited Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson to visit Budapest to negotiate Sweden's membership.

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