3rd Dec 2022

Finland optimistic in Turkey talks over Nato

  • Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg (l) with Finnish president Sauli Niinistö in Finland on 12 June (Photo:
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Finland, Sweden, and Turkey are edging toward a deal on the Nordic countries joining Nato, Helsinki has indicated.

There was "willingness to find a solution" all around when their envoys met in Brussels this week, a senior Finnish diplomat said on Thursday (23 June).

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"Parties at very senior level are willing to engage", he added. "We're making progress", he said.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has so far vetoed Finland and Sweden's Nato bids on grounds they were harbouring Kurdish "terrorists" and blocking arms sales to Turkey.

He even called for extraditions, which would have violated Nordic laws.

But as Nato leaders head into next week's summit in Madrid, Turkey's outstanding concerns had narrowed to Sweden's ties to a shortlist of Kurdish groups, such as the YPG, the Finnish diplomat indicated.

"It's quite clear this is more about Sweden than about Finland — this is not a secret," he said.

Finland downplayed the arms sales issue, saying there was "no embargo", so much as "pending export licences".

He spoke of "technical fixes" that "can be solved quite quickly".

It remains to be seen if Erdoğan shakes hands on a deal with Finnish and Swedish leaders in Madrid.

But European diplomacy is full of creative fudges if there is good will.

Finland, Sweden, and Turkey could voice solidarity with Turkey's fight against terrorism in a solemn declaration, without going into details, for instance.

The Nato summit communiqué could also be larded with talk of Turkey's importance, using its official new name — Türkiye.

If and when Erdoğan signs the Nordic states' "accession protocols" they will get the formal status of Nato "invitees", giving their staff access to almost all Nato meetings.

Finland has promised to go in hand-in-hand with Sweden in reaction to Russia's war in Ukraine.

Baltic exclave

Tensions also flared in the Baltic region this week, when Russia threatened Lithuania over its imputed "blockade" of Kaliningrad — a Russian exclave.

But Finnish diplomats downplayed risks of escalation.

"The most capable Russian forces are in the Black Sea region right now," one Finnish diplomat said.

"Russia has taken units from Kaliningrad and the Suwalki area, so they don't really have a military capability or presence [there]. We haven't seen any changes in their posture, so we think it's highly unlikely they would go into any military aggression," a second senior Finnish diplomat concurred .

The Suwalki strait is a strategic strip of land between Russian ally Belarus and Kaliningrad.

Lithuania is currently hosting a German-led Nato battalion.

And even if Russian leader Vladimir Putin was "foolhardy" enough to test Nato's mutual defence pact, he risked overstretch, according to Jamie Shea, a former Nato official who now teaches at Exeter University in the UK.

"Russia would need to halt its offensive [in the Donbas region in east Ukraine], giving the Ukrainian army a much needed breathing space, if it redeploys forces to the Baltic region," Shea said.

Putin's tactics

Putin was more likely to use softer "intimidating tactics" against Lithuania, he added.

These ranged from disrupting Lithuania's electricity supplies, to cyberattacks, naval and airspace violations, as well as placing more missiles in Kaliningrad, Shea said.

The Finnish diplomat said there was no sign of a Russian military build-up near Finland's borders and no spike in cyber attacks following its Nato application.

The Kremlin had even "toned down" its rhetoric on Finnish entry into Nato, he said.

And when Putin spoke with Finnish president Sauli Niinistö by phone about it back in May, the call was almost "cordial", the Finnish diplomat said.

The Swedish foreign ministry did not reply to questions.

The Turkish foreign ministry could not be reached Thursday.

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