Turkey lifts its objections to Sweden and Finland joining NATO
MADRID >> Turkey on Tuesday agreed to lift its opposition to Sweden and Finland joining NATO, ending a deadlock that sparked the opening of a summit of leaders in Madrid amid Europe’s worst security crisis in decades by the war in Ukraine.
After urgent high-level talks with the leaders of the three countries, the Alliance’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that “we now have an agreement that paves the way for Finland and Sweden to join NATO.” He called it “a historic decision”.
Among its many harrowing consequences, President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted Sweden and Finland to abandon their long-held non-aligned status and apply to join NATO to protect themselves against an increasingly aggressive and unpredictable Russia — a long time shares border with Finland. Under NATO treaties, an attack on any member would be considered an attack on all and would trigger a military response from the entire alliance.
NATO works by consensus, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had threatened to block the Nordic couple, insisting they change their stance on Kurdish rebel groups, which Turkey considers terrorists.
After weeks of diplomacy and hours of talks, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said Tuesday the three leaders had signed a joint agreement to break the deadlock.
Turkey said it “got what it wanted,” including “full cooperation… in fighting” the rebel groups.
Stoltenberg said leaders of the 30-nation alliance will formally invite the two countries to join on Wednesday. The decision has to be ratified by all individual nations, but he said he was “absolutely confident” that Finland and Sweden would become members, which could happen within months.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said the deal was “good for Finland and Sweden. And it’s good for NATO.”
She said the completion of the membership process should be “the sooner the better”.
“But there are 30 parliaments that have to approve that and you never know,” Andersson told the Associated Press.
Turkey hailed Tuesday’s deal as a triumph, saying the Nordic nations had agreed to crack down on groups Ankara sees as a national security threat, including the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) and its Syrian extension. They also agreed not to impose “embargo restrictions on the defense industry” on Turkey and to take “concrete steps to extradite terrorist criminals.”
Turkey has urged Finland and Sweden to extradite wanted people and lift weapons restrictions imposed after Turkey’s military incursion into northeast Syria in 2019.
Turkey, in turn, agreed to “support the invitation of Finland and Sweden to become members of NATO at the 2022 Madrid Summit”.
Details of what exactly was agreed were unclear. Amineh Kakabaveh, an independent Swedish lawmaker of Kurdish origin whose support the government relies on for a majority in parliament, said it was “concerning that Sweden is not disclosing what promises it made to Erdogan”.
Andersson dismissed suggestions that Sweden and Finland had made too many concessions.
Asked if the Swedish public will see the deal as a concession on issues such as the extradition of Kurdish militants seen by Ankara as terrorists, Andersson said, “You will see that this is good for Sweden’s security.”
US President Joe Biden congratulated the three nations on a “decisive step”.
Amid speculation about a US role in ending the shutdown, a senior administration official said Washington has made no concessions to Turkey to persuade it to accept a deal. But the official said the US played a crucial role in bringing the two parties closer, and Biden spoke to Erdogan on Tuesday morning at the behest of Sweden and Finland to further talks.
The deal came as the opening of a crucial summit dominated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that will set the Alliance’s course for years to come. The summit began with a Heads of State dinner hosted by Spain’s King Felipe VI. was held in the 18th-century Royal Palace of Madrid.
Topping the agenda for Wednesday and Thursday’s sessions is strengthening defenses against Russia and supporting Ukraine.
Moscow’s February 24 invasion shook European security, bringing city shelling and bloody ground fighting back to the continent. NATO, which had begun to shift its focus to terrorism and other non-state threats, once again had to face an adversary Russia.
Biden said NATO is “as united and electrified as I think we’ve ever been.”
A Russian rocket attack on Monday at a shopping mall in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk was a grim reminder of the horrors of war. Some saw the timing of the Group of Seven leaders meeting in Germany, just ahead of the NATO meeting, as a message from Moscow.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is scheduled to address NATO leaders via video on Wednesday, called the strike at the mall a “terrorist” act.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko traveled to Madrid to urge the coalition to give his country “whatever it takes” to end the war.
“Wake up guys. This is happening now. You will be next, this will be knocking on your door in no time,” Klitschko told reporters at the summit venue.
Stoltenberg said the meeting would lay out a blueprint for the alliance “in a more dangerous and unpredictable world” — and that means “we need to invest more in our defenses,” Stoltenberg said. Only nine of NATO’s 30 members are meeting the organization’s goal of spending 2% of gross domestic product on defense. Spain, which hosts the summit, only spends half of that.
Stoltenberg said on Monday that NATO allies would agree at the summit to almost eightfold the strength of the alliance’s rapid reaction force from 40,000 to 300,000 men. Troops will be stationed in their home countries but assigned to specific countries on NATO’s eastern flank where the Alliance plans to build up stocks of equipment and ammunition.
Tensions lie beneath the surface within NATO over how the war will end and what concessions, if any, Ukraine should make to end the fighting.
There are also disagreements over how hard to take a line on China in NATO’s new Strategic Concept – its once-a-decade set of priorities and goals. The last document, released in 2010, made no mention of China at all.
The new concept is expected to spell out NATO’s approach to issues ranging from cybersecurity to climate change – and China’s growing economic and military reach, as well as the increasing importance and power of the Indo-Pacific region. For the first time, the heads of state and government of Japan, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand will attend the summit as guests.
Some European members are suspicious of the US hard line on Beijing and do not want China used as an adversary.
In the Strategic Concept, NATO will declare Russia its number one threat.
Russia’s state space agency Roscosmos marked the opening of the summit by releasing satellite images and coordinates of the Madrid conference room where it’s taking place, along with those of the White House, the Pentagon and government headquarters in London, Paris and Berlin.
The agency said NATO would declare Russia an enemy at the summit, adding that it would release exact coordinates “just in case”.