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Any Nato membership deal must be unanimously approved by the 30 members of the alliance. Photo: EPA-EFE

Hopes fade for swift Nato accession for Finland and Sweden

  • A dispute with Türkiye, which is blocking their bid to join the alliance, appears unlikely to be resolved before a summit in Spain next week
  • A quick process had been expected, but Ankara’s objections came as a surprise at as Nato seeks a unified front amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Finland and Sweden discussed their stalled Nato bids with Türkiye in Brussels on Monday, but Ankara dampened hopes that their dispute will be resolved before an alliance summit next week.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg met representatives from the three countries to try to make progress on the Nordic nations’ membership applications, which have been blocked by Ankara.

While he described the talks as “constructive” Türkiye made it clear there was still work to be done.

“The Madrid Nato summit is not the deadline, so our negotiations will continue,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s foreign policy adviser Ibrahim Kalin told reporters after the talks.

Even before this latest meeting some observers were playing down the chances of a deal at the summit.

“I think it is possible but it would be very difficult,” said Paul Levin, director of the Institute for Turkish Studies at Stockholm University, adding it would require compromise on both sides.

Why is Türkiye wary of Sweden and Finland’s Nato bid?

Nato, Stockholm and Helsinki had expected the application process to be quick. But Ankara’s objections caught them all off guard, at a time when Nato is keen to display a unified front against Russia.

Ankara has accused Finland and Sweden of providing a safe haven for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a “terrorist” group by Türkiye and its Western allies. Ankara has also demanded they lift their weapons freezes on Türkiye.

Any Nato membership deal must be unanimously approved by the 30 members of the alliance, and fears are now mounting that Türkiye could delay the Nordic countries’ bids indefinitely.

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin recently expressed fears that unless the issues are resolved before the Nato summit in Madrid, “there is a risk that the situation will freeze”.

Germany also dampened hopes of a deal being reached that quickly.

“I think this is about expectations management and to place this in its historical context,” said a high-ranking German government source Monday, while stressing a solution was still in sight.

Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin gives a press conference in Skopje, Macedonia on Monday. Photo: AFP

“It would not be a catastrophe if we need a few more weeks,” the source said. “What is crucial is that in our view there are no insurmountable difficulties” between Sweden, Finland and Türkiye.

Speaking in Luxembourg on Monday, Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde told Swedish media that “we should be prepared for this to take some time”.

Ankara’s anger has primarily been directed at Sweden.

“Sweden does view the PKK as a terrorist organisation and has done so since 1984,” Levin said, adding that it was “arguably the first country apart from Turkey” to do so. “So in that sense Sweden does not really stand out” from other European countries.

Why Finland, Sweden joining Nato would be a big deal

Sweden has however expressed support for the YPG, a US-backed Syrian Kurdish group, and its political arm, the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

Ankara views the YPG, which fought against the Islamic State group in Syria with Western support, as the PKK’s Syria offshoot.

In a bid to ease Ankara’s concerns, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson has stressed that Sweden has been strengthening its anti-terror laws in recent years, with new stricter legislation coming into force on July 1.

Sweden has also said that its independent weapons export agency would be prepared to review its policy once the country was a Nato member.


Possible Nato membership for Finland and Sweden sparks concern in Russia

Possible Nato membership for Finland and Sweden sparks concern in Russia

Levin noted that one area where Sweden, which is home to around 100,000 Kurds, does stand out in Europe is that it is “generally more sympathetic to the broader Kurdish cause”.

“In that sense, maybe Turkey is right to put the spotlight on Sweden”, Levin said.

Sweden’s government is also being squeezed on the home front, with its hands tied by an independent lawmaker with Kurdish roots.

Amineh Kakabaveh is a former Left Party member of Iranian-Kurdish origin sitting in parliament as an independent since 2019.

No more Turkey: nation changes name to Türkiye at UN in rebranding effort

In November, she provided the deciding vote to bring the Social Democrats into power – in exchange for deeper cooperation with the PYD.

Kakabaveh has threatened to vote against the government’s budget proposal this week if Sweden agrees to sell arms to Türkiye.

But Sweden’s legislative elections in September could end the deadlock with Ankara. Kakabaveh is not expected to be re-elected to parliament, which would enable the government to negotiate more freely with Türkiye.

“It really looks like the Swedish government is trying to step away from this agreement with Kakabaveh in order to be able to have this discussion with Turkey,” Levin said.