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Thursday, February 22, 2024

Turkey Approves Sweden’s NATO Membership Bid After 20-Month Delay

Turkey’s parliament has finally ratified Sweden’s NATO membership bid, marking a significant development after a 20-month delay. The decision, made during a session of the general assembly, eliminates a major obstacle to expanding the Western military alliance.

Historical Context and Delays

Sweden initially submitted its NATO membership bid in 2022, driven by the need to enhance its security in the face of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. However, the process faced prolonged delays as each NATO member had to approve the applications. Turkey, a key player, had raised objections concerning Sweden and Finland, citing their alleged protection of groups labeled as terrorists.

Overcoming Obstacles

Despite Finland gaining approval in April of the previous year, Sweden faced prolonged waiting, with objections from Turkey and Hungary. The recent approval from Turkey’s general assembly signifies a crucial step forward for Sweden’s NATO accession.

Reactions and Statements

U.S. Ambassador and NATO Secretary General’s Responses

U.S. Ambassador Jeff Flake commended Turkey’s decision, emphasizing the commitment to the NATO alliance. Flake expressed gratitude for Turkey’s enduring partnership, acknowledging the significance of NATO enlargement in strengthening deterrence efforts. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Turkey’s move and urged Hungary to complete its national ratification promptly.

Swedish Foreign Minister’s Reaction

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom expressed appreciation for the Turkish parliament’s approval. He eagerly anticipates President Erdogan’s signing of the ratification document, emphasizing the positive momentum gained.

Remaining Steps and Geopolitical Considerations

Erdogan’s Expected Approval and Hungary’s Decision

President Erdogan is expected to sign the legislation in the coming days, leaving Hungary as the sole member state yet to approve Sweden’s accession. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, known for his amicable relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has extended an invitation to his Swedish counterpart for negotiations on joining the bloc.

Geopolitical Dynamics and Russia’s Stance

Turkey and Hungary, maintaining more cordial relations with Russia compared to other NATO members, have raised concerns about potential NATO military infrastructure in Sweden and Finland. While opposing Russia’s actions in Ukraine, Turkey has criticized Western sanctions on Moscow.

Delays, Demands, and Concessions

Turkish Delays and Extracted Concessions

Turkey’s delays in approving Sweden’s NATO bid frustrated Western allies but allowed Ankara to extract concessions. The Turkish government had urged Sweden to strengthen its stance against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), designated as a terrorist group by the EU and the U.S. In response, Sweden introduced an anti-terrorism bill and made policy adjustments on arms exports.

Link to U.S. Approval and Potential Arms Deal

President Erdogan linked the ratification to U.S. approval of F-16 fighter jet sales to Turkey. The White House supports the sale, and analysts expect a swift deal following Turkey’s approval of Sweden’s bid. However, the U.S. Congress’s timeline for approving the deal remains uncertain.

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