Turkey has lifted its veto over Finland and Sweden’s bid to join NATO, ending a weeks-long dispute that tested the unity of the NATO alliance against Russia’s ‘Special Operations’ in Ukraine. The breakthrough on June 28, 2022, came after four hours of talks just before a NATO summit began in Madrid.
A tripartite memorandum confirming that Turkey will support Finland and Sweden’s membership to NATO was signed after the meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Madrid.
Stoltenberg said the terms of the tripartite memorandum involved Sweden intensifying work on Turkish extradition requests of suspected separatist Kurdish fighters and amending Swedish and Finnish law to toughen their approach to them. Stoltenberg also said that Sweden and Finland would lift their restrictions on selling weapons to Turkey.
Ankara hailed the agreement as a triumph. Finland and Sweden also agreed “not to impose embargo restrictions in the field of defence industry” on Turkey and to take “concrete steps on the extradition of terrorist criminals”. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s office triumphantly said in a statement following the decision that “Turkey got what it wanted.”
The United States has been leading a push by NATO members to allow Sweden and Finland to join the alliance to show strength and unity to President Vladimir Putin in response to his invasion of Ukraine. Sweden and Finland had applied to join in mid-May.
Turkey, which has been barred from the F-35 stealth fighter jet programme by the United States after it acquired S-400 defence missiles from Russia in 2019, has been expecting a green light from the US Congress to approve its purchase of new F-16 fighter jets and modernization kits for its existing fleet of planes.
The White House had also imposed sanctions on Turkey’s defence procurement agency. Turkey surprised its NATO allies when it initially opposed Finland and Sweden’s bid to join the alliance.
Ankara demanded that the Nordic countries stop supporting Kurdish armed groups, such as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and lift their bans on the sales of some arms to Turkey. Turkey raised concerns that Sweden had been harbouring PKK members, which Stockholm denied.
Erdoğan before leaving for the NATO Summit at Madrid, had said that he would push US President Joe Biden on a deal for the F-16 fighter jets.
The US has previously blocked Turkey from acquiring F-35 fighter jets after Ankara purchased the S-400 missile defence system from Russia in 2017. Though President Biden had intervened personally in the diplomatic dispute prior to the trilateral talks in Madrid, the US President’s office denied he made any concessions to Turkey for dropping its objections to Sweden and Finland joining NATO.
Biden, on June 30, however, said that The United States supports the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, adding that he had confidence on the congressional approval needed for the sale to be obtained, muddying the scene further.
US senators have objected to any attempts to bargain with Turkey over Sweden and Finland’s NATO accession, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez said at a June 22 committee hearing on NATO enlargement that “we don’t need for any extraction to take place or any concessions to take place to have two great democracies join NATO.”
Immediately after the NATO membership deal was reached on June 28, Turkey’s Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ, said (June 29, 2022) that Turkey awaits the extradition of 33 terrorism suspects from Sweden and Finland, adding that Turkey would renew a request for Sweden and Finland to extradite individuals it considers terrorists.
“The dossiers of six PKK members, six FETÖ (Gülen Movement) members await in Finland, while those of 10 FETÖ members and 11 PKK members await in Sweden. We will write about their extradition again after the agreement and remind them,” Bozdağ said.
While PKK is viewed as a terrorist group by EU, US and UK, they do not view Gülen movement in the same light. As reported by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency (AA) on May 19, 2022, Turkey wants to have the following people extradited: Writer Mehmet Sıraç Bilgin, Aysel Alhan, Aziz Turan, writer and publisher Ragıp Zarakolu, Halef Tek, Harun Tokak, Bülent Kenes, Yılmaz Ayten and Levent Kenez, and Abdullah Bozkurt.
The deal Sweden signed with Turkey to join NATO has raised concern among Kurds and leftist political parties in the country. Steps including an agreement to lift an arms embargo and meet Turkey’s request to extradite Kurdish terror suspects were seen as too much of a concession to Turkey.
While this memorandum is highly significant in showing how the will put forth by Turkey in foreign policy bore positive results, it also is important in that the FETÖ, the PYD and the YPG (the Syrian branches of the PKK), which were not described as terrorists in international agreements or other texts except for the PKK, were described as terrorists.
It is clear that Ankara wants a ‘ransom’ from Stockholm.
Turkey has also been abusing the Interpol mechanism. It has been declaring dissidents as criminals for political purposes and applying to the Interpol’s extradition mechanism to make a request for their extradition to Turkey.
Turkey legally has the right to make an application based on the existing files, but it also has the obligation to respect the laws of other countries. As per the laws in Sweden, the legal and political status of exiles in the country cannot be subjected to a “request for extradition” to Turkey.
The Supreme Court in Sweden, which is in the capacity of the Constitutional Court has ruled that the extradition request should be rejected ‘on the grounds that the indicated offenses were about freedom of thought and the related acts did not fall within the scope of criminal acts according to the Swedish law.
Not taking court rulings into account has unfortunately been a habit in Turkey. The glaring examples are the cases of jailed philanthropist business person Osman Kavala and jailed politician Selahattin Demirtas.
The government of Turkey wants other governments to do the same thing. The complication arises from a definition of terrorism in Turkish law that goes beyond criminalizing participation in violent acts and infringes on basic freedom of speech. This loose and often aggressive framing of the terms terrorist and terrorism is regularly used by Erdoğan and members of his government to silence and repress their critics and opponents.
Swedish Left Party leader Nooshi Dadgostar warned of “the danger of putting Swedish foreign policy in the hands of despot Erdoğan.”
The Green Party also called on Sweden’s Foreign Minister to appear before parliament’s foreign affairs committee to explain what exactly Sweden conceded to Turkey.
Foreign Minister Ann Linde was forced to come out with the statement for the Swedish media following the announcement of the deal that Sweden would not agree to any extraditions requested by Turkey unless there is proof of terrorist activity.
NATO itself has become another target of Erdoğan’s vitriol as he blames the West for Turkey’s growing economic ills and political isolation.
This goes back to the aftermath of the 2016 coup attempt, when members of parliament from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) alleged NATO involvement without presenting a shred of evidence, even calling it a “terror organisation.”
This allegation has been periodically nurtured by the government even if Erdoğan has personally avoided it.
Yet, Erdoğan’s close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, decision to purchase S-400 missiles from Russia, and a relentless diplomatic battle over them with Washington has deeply damaged the reliability of Turkey as a NATO ally.
Skepticism about Turkey’s place in the alliance was further aggravated by Erdoğan’s threat to expel 10 Western ambassadors, seven of them from allies, for asking him to implement a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling and release Kavala.
Instead, Erdoğan chose to categorically dismiss the ECHR decision as well as the Council of Europe’s initiation of disciplinary action against Turkey.
The conditions for lifting Ankara’s NATO membership veto against Finland and Sweden, include demands that are inconsistent with the ECHR.
The EP’s Turkey rapporteur, Nacho Sanchez Amor, said (June 07, 22), that the European Parliament (EP) won’t remain silent in the face of Turkey’s latest violations of fundamental freedoms, regardless of its geopolitical role.
The EU remains a club of advanced democracies, and at the heart of the report lies the current disastrous state of democratic standards in Turkey, Amor said.
With this NATO deal, Sweden’s reputation as a safe haven for the persecuted has not only been dented, the EU’s reputation of flag bearer of human rights would also come in question, if extradition takes place under this deal.
It appears that Turkey has become successful in blackmailing NATO, in lifting its veto to unblock the accession of Finland and Sweden to the 30-nation alliance. Finland and Sweden, as of now, have been coerced to meet Turkey’s demands to be able to join NATO.
However, granting true, membership would require not only Sweden and Finland, but also existing members of NATO to depart from ECHR standards in their domestic legislation.
Erdoğan issued his blunt warning at the end of a NATO summit on June 30, which Sweden and Finland must follow through on a new accession deal with Ankara, or Turkey could still block their bid to join NATO. A long and hot summer awaits NATO.
Petros Aramidis is a geopolitical analyst based in Athens.