Ankara (The Times Groupe)- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that NATO-member Turkey could not support plans by Sweden and Finland to join the pact as the Nordic countries were “home to many terrorist organizations”.
Even though Turkey has officially supported NATO expansion since it joined the U.S.-led alliance 70 years ago, its opposition could pose a problem for Sweden and Finland given that new members must be agreed to unanimously.
Throughout its history, Turkey has repeatedly criticized Sweden and other Western European countries for their handling of groups deemed terrorist by Ankara, including the Kurdish militant groups PKK and YPG, and followers of U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen. Turkey says the Gulenists attempted a coup in 2016. Gulen and his supporters deny the allegations.
By applying for NATO membership, Finland and Sweden are expected to expand the Western military alliance that Putin aimed to prevent with his invasion of Ukraine.
Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul that he was following developments surrounding Finland and Sweden, but he did not hold positive views on the issue. He said that Greece’s membership in NATO had been a mistake in the past.
“We do not want to repeat similar mistakes as a country, nor are Scandinavian countries guesthouses for terrorist groups,” Erdogan said without elaborating.
“Some of them are even in parliaments in some countries. We cannot support them,” he said.
As a response to Turkish resistance, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto called for patience and a step-by-step approach. In addition, he said he would meet his Turkish counterpart on Saturday in Berlin.
Meanwhile, Sweden remains confident it will be able to secure unanimous approval for any NATO application it submits.
Earlier, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg had stated that the Finns would be “warmly welcomed” and promised a “smooth and swift” accession process.
Aaron Stein, director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, tweeted on Twitter about the Turkish opposition: “Turkish national security elites view Finland and Sweden as semi-hostile, given the presence of PKK and Gulenists. It’s gonna take a lot of arm twisting to get approval.”
NATO states that it is open to any country that is capable of furthering the principles of the North Atlantic Treaty and contributing to North Atlantic security”.
In addition to attending many NATO meetings, receiving regular updates on the situation in Ukraine and participating in regular military drills, Finland and Sweden already have interoperable military equipment with NATO allies.
However, they cannot take advantage of NATO’s collective defence clause – that an attack on one ally is an attack on all – until they join.
On Thursday, Moscow called Finland’s announcement hostile and threatened retaliation, including unspecified “military-technical” measures.
Although Turkey has criticized Russia’s invasion, sent armed drones to Ukraine, and tried to facilitate peace talks between the sides, it has not backed Western sanctions against Moscow, and seeks to maintain close economic, energy, and tourism ties with Russia.