5th Feb 2023

Sweden taking Turkey 'seriously' on Nato demands

  • Turkey, Sweden, and Finland clinched a deal in principle on Nato enlargement in June (Photo: Nato)
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Sweden and Finland are counting on further talks with Turkey to unlock their Nato accession, as Western diplomats wonder what Ankara really wants.

"The Swedish government takes the implementation of the memorandum very seriously," the Swedish foreign ministry told EUobserver on Thursday (15 September), referring to a deal made in June with Turkey to go after alleged Kurdish terrorists in return for Nato entry.

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"Further meetings in the trilateral format between Sweden, Finland, and Türkiye are foreseen," the Swedish ministry said, following the last such talks on 26 August.

Finland is also "working together with Türkiye to organise further meetings at expert level," its foreign ministry said.

They spoke after Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoglu warned one day earlier the Turkish parliament wouldn't ratify the Nordic Nato bids if they didn't play ball. "No concrete steps have been taken up to today," by Stockholm or Helsinki to satisfy Ankara, he declared.

Finland and Sweden are joining the Western alliance to protect themselves from Russia, in a tectonic shift in European security in reaction to the Ukraine war.

Some 24 out of 30 Nato members have already ratified the move in the fastest-paced accession process in its history, showing the overwhelming support for Nordic enlargement.

But Turkey first wants Sweden to extradite 73 Kurdish separatist suspects and for Finland to hand over 12 more.

It also wants them to tighten national terrorism laws and to sell Turkey high-end weapons systems, in demands which are being fulfilled.

Çavuşoglu's warning was prompted by the formation of a new right-wing government in Stockholm, including the far-right Sweden Democrats party, following elections last Sunday.

But the Sweden Democrats endorse Nato entry, and right-wing Swedish voters will likely be more comfortable with extraditing Kurdish exiles than supporters of the outgoing centre-left government would have been.

And despite Çavuşoglu's tough talk, few in the EU or Nato think Ankara expects to get everything it wants.

Turkey's demands on Finnish extraditions, for one, could easily melt away because they are largely symbolic. "There is no PKK in Finland," an EU diplomat said, referring to a leading Kurdish militant group.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's "frustration" with Sweden giving safe harbour to so many Kurds was more "real", Jamie Shea, a former senior Nato official, told this website.

But given the high burden of proof from Turkey that Swedish courts will require to substantiate terrorism charges, "it is highly unlikely that all the individuals on Ankara's list will be handed over", Shea also said.

"Erdoğan knows that he cannot stop the [Nato enlargement] process indefinitely, whatever the rhetoric from Ankara, and so my sense is that he will declare victory after a few symbolic extraditions and lift his objections," Shea said.

Turkish elections

That still leaves the question of when Erdoğan might budge.

Finland and Sweden are not covered by Nato's mutual defence clause until the day they join, amid concern over the potential for a sudden flare-up in Russian aggression in the Baltic region.

But Erdoğan is preparing to fight elections in June next year amid an economic slump in Turkey, and his spin-doctors might want to drag out the Nato dispute as long as possible for campaign reasons, the EU diplomat said.

"It makes him [Erdoğan] look like an important player on the world stage," the diplomat noted.

"It also has a rallying-round-the-flag effect on Turkish nationalists and on those large portions of Turkish society where anti-Americanism is rife," he said.

"Erdoğan has other cards to play, such as creating a new migration or Mediterranean gas-drilling crisis with Greece," the diplomat added. "His people are obsessed with opinion polls, and they'll be frantically doing surveys to see how each of his moves plays out," the EU diplomat said.

Turkey sent thousands of Syrian refugees to the Greek border two years ago. It dispatched a ship in August to resume gas exploration in an area criss-crossed by rival territorial claims.

Meanwhile, the Finnish and Swedish bids are proceeding so swiftly because they already became de facto Nato members in military-technical terms during years of close cooperation.

There is very little left for Nato itself to do to wrap up the process following member states' ratifications, Shea, who now teaches war studies at the University of Exeter in the UK, said.

This includes tweaking its budget and legal documents.

"Nato commanders will need to revise their contingency plans for the defence of Europe to cover Swedish and Finnish territory, which includes islands in the Baltic Sea," Shea said.

"They will also be proposing Swedish and Finnish military contributions for the defence of other allies. But again, given the recent closeness of Sweden and Finland to Nato, they probably finalised these plans, at least informally, months or even years ago already," he said.

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