Finland gears up for Turkey’s NATO blessing, as Sweden gets left behind

Finland gears up for Turkey’s NATO blessing, as Sweden gets left behind
Опубликовано: Wednesday, 15 March 2023 17:08

President Sauli Niinistö will meet his counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday, while Stockholm acknowledges its path looks different.

BRUSSELS — Turkey is expected to greenlight Finland’s NATO membership in the coming days — while leaving its running mate Sweden in limbo.

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö announced Wednesday he will meet his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Istanbul on Friday, as Ankara edges closer to signing off on Helsinki’s NATO aspirations.

“It was known that once President Erdoğan has for his part made the decision concerning the ratification of Finland’s NATO membership, he would wish to meet and fulfill his promise directly from President to President,” Niinistö said in a statement.

“The Turks have hoped that I be present when they announce this decision. Of course, I accepted the invitation and I will be there to receive his expression of will,” he said.

NATO’s 30 member countries formally invited Finland and Sweden to join the military alliance last summer, but Turkey and Hungary have dragged out the ratification process. And though the Nordic neighbors had originally planned to join the alliance together, Finland’s membership process looks set to go ahead without Sweden due to Ankara’s continued discontent with Stockholm.

Turkey has raised concerns about arms exports and support for Kurdish groups from Finland and Sweden, leading to months-long negotiations and policy changes in both Helsinki and Stockholm.

But Turkish officials say they are not fully satisfied — particularly with Sweden, which has refused to extradite dozens of Turkey’s Kurdish political opponents. A Quran-burning incident in Stockholm further escalated tensions. Talks among the three countries at NATO headquarters last week ended with no breakthrough.

Western officials still hold out hope, however, that Turkey’s parliament will also ratify Sweden’s membership — possibly after the country’s May elections and ahead of a summit of NATO leaders scheduled for July in Lithuania.

“My goal,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said earlier this month, “is that both Sweden and Finland should become full members of NATO as soon as possible, at least by the Vilnius Summit.”

In his statement, the Finnish president said he will advocate for Sweden.

“It is very important for Finland that both Finland and Sweden become members of NATO as soon as possible. I will continue my work to support Sweden’s NATO membership,” he said.

Speaking on Wednesday, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson acknowledged that Helsinki and Stockholm’s membership paths have diverged.

“We have increasingly got in the last weeks the pieces of information that Turkey is prepared to ratify Finland before ratifying Sweden,” he said during a visit to Germany.

“We’re not at all hiding the fact that we would’ve preferred a simultaneous ratification,” he said, adding however that “every country makes its own ratification decisions and I have full respect for that.”

“We hope,” the Swedish leader said, “for a rapid ratification after the Turkish elections.”

Hans von der Burchard reported from Berlin.

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