Turkey’s Erdogan expresses support for Ukraine & Sweden joining NATO

A series of unexpected moves.

Yen Zhi Yi | July 11, 2023, 12:23 PM

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In an unexpected move on Jul. 10, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed his support for Sweden’s bid to join the North Atlantic Military Organisation (NATO).

NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Erdogan agreed to “forward the accession protocol for Sweden to the grand national assembly as soon as possible, and work closely with the assembly to ensure ratification”.

The announcement came after more than a year’s opposition from Turkey over Sweden’s potential membership in the military alliance, Financial Times (FT) reported.

It is also seen as an important move to beef up eastern Europe’s defence in view of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The green light also came a day before the annual NATO summit to be held in Vilnius, Lithuania from Jul. 11 to 12, and a few days after Erdogan met Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Earlier opposition

NATO membership must go through approval of all NATO members, and any member state can veto a new state from joining the alliance.

Finland was earlier given the green light to join NATO in April 2023, after it and Sweden applied to join in May 2022, departing from decades of non-military alignment in light of the war in Ukraine.

Both faced opposition from a few members of the alliance, namely Turkey and Hungary.

Turkey's opposition was centred around its opposition to both countries purportedly supporting what Turkey considers terrorist groups.

Sweden has provided asylum to over a hundred individuals that Turkey considers terrorists from the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) party, as explained by Reuters.

Anti-Turkish protests in Stockholm also did not sit well with Erdogan, and he later used anti-Sweden sentiment to stir up nationalist support during Turkey's presidential elections.

Sweden itself implemented a new anti-terrorism bill and reiterated that it had fulfilled whatever was agreed on in negotiations with Turkey, according to Reuters.

Both sides also agreed to a new bilateral Security Compact to counter terrorism.

On Ukraine

On Jul. 7, Erdogan met with the Ukrainian president and expressed his support for the country’s bid to join NATO.

“Without a doubt, Ukraine deserves to be in NATO,” the Turkish president was quoted as saying by CNN.

Erdogan also supported the extension of the Black Sea grain deal which Turkey helped to facilitate and was due to expire soon.

The deal allows civilian ships to export Ukrainian grain unharmed through the Black Sea and the Bosphorus strait.

More unexpected moves

Erdogan also caught Russia off guard when he allowed five former commanders of the Ukrainian garrison at Mariupol to return to Kyiv with Zelensky, The Guardian reported.

However, under the terms of a prisoner exchange in 2022, the men were supposed to remain in Turkey until the war ended.

In response, a spokesperson from the Kremlin denounced Turkey’s move, noting that it had violated the terms and did not inform their side of the decision, The Guardian reported.

Erdogan said that “particularly on prisoner swaps, we’ve listened to Ukraine. We are also listening to Russia. I spoke to Mr Putin”, according to CNN.

He noted that he will be furthering discussions with the Russian president when the latter visits Turkey in August 2023.

Turkey's EU bid

At a news conference on Jul. 10, Erdogan called to “clear Turkey’s way in the European Union”, CNN reported.

He said that this would then “clear the way for Sweden, just as (Turkey) paved the way for Finland".

“Turkey has been waiting at the gate of the European Union for over 50 years now.”

“Almost all NATO member countries are European member countries.”

This came shortly after he expressed support for Sweden's NATO bid.

In 1987, Turkey applied to join the European Economic Community (EEC), the EU’s predecessor.

Formal membership talks commenced in 2005, but have slowed down ever since the EU criticised Turkey for human rights violations in relation to the 2016 Turkish coup d'état attempt.

In response to Erdogan’s statement, a spokesperson from the European Commission said membership to NATO and EU were "separate processes”, Reuters reported.

Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, similarly said that Sweden’s NATO membership and Turkey’s bid to join the EU were unrelated, according to FT.

Stoltenberg commented that it was “still possible to have a positive decision on Swedish membership” at the upcoming NATO summit in Vilnius notwithstanding Erdogan’s latest remarks, CNN reported.


Top image via Twitter/@ZelenskyyUa