Istanbul – NATO member Turkey, which has a veto, opposes Sweden and Finland joining the alliance, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters on Friday that he did not view the countries’ membership application positively. Analysts warn that the Turkish leader’s stance is likely to raise questions about Ankara’s loyalty given its close ties with Moscow.
“At the moment we are following developments in Sweden and Finland, but we have no positive opinions,” said Erdogan. “Because in the past, previous Turkish governments made a mistake about Greece’s membership, and you know Greece’s current attitude towards Turkey.”
Turkey and neighboring Greece are bitter rivals with many disputes, including ongoing tensions over disputed territorial waters in the Aegean Sea. But Erdogan’s stance has more to do with his close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Huseyin Bagci, head of the Ankara-based foreign policy institute.
“Turkey has very good relations with Russia, and Russia supplies defense systems,” he said. “Russia is, for now and for the future, one of the largest suppliers of energy to Turkey. The good relations between Erdogan and Putin are also the reason why Tayyip Erdogan is playing this card. The other, Tayyip Erdogan, is trying to increase the leverage of the Turkish negotiation process through this. “
Turkey remains in conflict with NATO over the purchase of the Russian missile system S-400, which saw the United States beat Ankara with military sanctions claiming that the purchase jeopardized NATO’s defense system.
International relations expert Soli Ozel at Kadir Has University in Istanbul warned that Ankara risks a backlash from its NATO partners over its opposition to Swedish and Finnish membership.
“I am sure that is how it will be interpreted, and there will be those who say that we should expel Turkey from NATO, even though as far as I know there is no expulsion mechanism in NATO,” Ozel said.
But relations between Turkey and its allied partners, particularly Washington, had improved with Ankara’s condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Turkey has recently used goodwill over its attitude towards Ukraine to improve ties with its Western allies.
Some analysts believe that Erdogan can look for concessions from Sweden and Finland. On Friday, Erdogan criticized the two countries for being sympathetic to Kurdish groups accused by Ankara of carrying out terrorist attacks in Turkey. Helsinki and Stockholm are strongly critical of Turkey’s human rights and both countries have given political asylum to many opponents of the Turkish government.
Analyst Ozel said Erdogan could look for a deal but questioned his approach.
“Turkey would like to use its power to veto as leverage to get these two countries to do as they please,” Ozel said. “How wise it is, is quite debatable in my opinion, I’m not particular[ly] think it is highly advisable. “If Turkey is on a charm offensive and it’s trying to rebuild bridges that it burned with almost everyone, you can actually make your case, but you do not have to make it so public.”
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said patience was needed to overcome Erdogan’s opposition. NATO foreign ministers, including from Turkey, will meet in Berlin this weekend.