Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has come out against allowing Sweden and Finland to join Nato, putting the two Nordic countries’ hopes of joining the western military alliance in jeopardy.
In a move that risks striking a blow to Turkey’s efforts to strengthen its ties with the US and Europe in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Erdoğan — whose country has been a Nato member since 1952 — said on Friday that he could not take a “positive view” of the two nations’ potential bids for membership.
The obstacle was their support for the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long armed insurgency against the Turkish state, he said. It is classified as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the US and the EU. The Turkish president also named a far-left extremist group.
“Scandinavian countries are like some kind of guest house for terrorist organisations,” Erdoğan told reporters, referring to the Nordic countries. “They are even in parliament.”
He added: “At this point, it’s not possible for us to look positively at this.”
Some Swedish officials and MPs have been worried that Turkey could pose the most dangerous opposition to a potential Nato bid, which appears to be backed by most of the alliance’s other 29 members but requires unanimous support.
“There are a lot of Kurds in Sweden, there are a lot of MPs with Kurdish background, Sweden has been active on the Kurdish issue — I’m afraid there could be a backlash,” one senior Swedish official said earlier this month.
Finnish and Swedish diplomats have been crossing Europe and the Atlantic to curry favour with Nato members, whose ratification is necessary for them to become members.
Ann Linde, Sweden’s foreign minister, told Swedish radio on Friday that Turkey could be trying to use the situation to gain something it wanted. “We know that ratification processes always involve uncertainties, not least that the ratification could be used for domestic politics,” she added.
Finnish officials have focused particularly on Hungary, which they feared could seek concessions to approve their membership.
Finnish president Sauli Niinistö spoke with Erdoğan on April 4, describing the phone call as “positive” on Twitter and adding: “Turkey supports Finland’s objectives.”
Nato officials have said they expect both Finland and Sweden to become formal invitees within “a couple of weeks” but that it could take six to 12 months for all 30 existing members to ratify their applications.
Finland’s government will meet on Sunday with president Niinistö set to finalise the country’s application. On the same day, Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats will make their position known before an announcement by the government next week. The countries could choose to send their applications to Nato jointly next week during a state visit of Niinistö to Stockholm.
Turkey had suffered from strained relations with Nato allies in recent years. The US imposed sanctions in 2020 in retaliation for Erdoğan’s decision to buy and take delivery of a Russian-made S-400 air defence system.
Western nations had been buoyed by Turkey’s support for Ukraine in the aftermath of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s invasion, with Ankara supplying armed drones to Kyiv and taking steps to limit the transit of Russian warships and military planes through its airspace — although it has refused to sign up to western sanctions against Moscow.