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30th Jan 2023

No sign of quick Nato deal, as Turkey and Sweden dig in

  • Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is facing elections in June (Photo: nato.int)
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Turkey and Sweden have hit a wall in talks on Nato accession, with some predicting Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won't give way till July.

The deadlock comes after Sweden indicated it won't extradite anybody else to Turkey just to please Ankara.

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  • Stockholm: Political extraditions not on the cards, Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristersson indicated (Photo: Neil Howard)

"We have done what we said we would do, but they [Turkey] also say that they want things that we cannot or do not want to give them," Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristersson said on Sunday (8 January).

"We have complied with all parts of the agreement with Turkey and Finland, and we continue to implement them," the Swedish foreign ministry also told EUobserver on Tuesday, referring to a pact on Nato enlargement between Ankara, Helsinki, and Stockholm.

"It is up to Turkey to decide when ratification will take place. We cannot speculate on a specific date," Sweden said.

"I think, now they [Sweden] lost their patience and want to make the Erdoğan regime understand that they demand the impossible," added Bülent Keneş, an exiled Turkish journalist in Stockholm.

Sweden and Finland are ending decades of neutrality by joining Nato in reaction to Russia's war in Europe, but Erdoğan has demanded Sweden hand over Keneş and 42 others in return for ratification.

Swedish courts extradited two people but ruled Keneş can keep his asylum, before Sweden now claimed it has "complied with all parts" of Turkey's request.

Turkey had made similar demands of Finland, who extradited nobody.

"Finland has constructively implemented the trilateral memorandum agreed in Madrid last year," the Finnish foreign ministry also told EUobserver on Tuesday, when asked if there was anything left to do.

The three capitals are meant to iron out their differences in a trilateral "contact group".

But this last met on 25 November and there is no date set for its first meeting this year.

For his part, Finnish president Sauli Niinistö warned in a speech on 1 January: "It is possible that the delay will extend beyond the [Finnish] parliamentary elections this spring [April]".

Some EU diplomats fear the real deadline is the Turkish election in June.

"Erdoğan needs a row to show voters he's a strong man," an EU contact said. "Two rich, Western countries seeking his accord, doing his homework, filing reports to him — it's just too politically delicious," he added.

But one Turkey expert predicted Erdoğan will orchestrate the climax of his "drama" to coincide with the Nato summit in Vilnius in July.

"Between the Turkish elections and the Nato summit will be the big moment for a breakthrough," Asli Aydıntaşbaş, from the Brookings Institution, a think-tank in Washington, said.

"It's a question of his [Erdoğan's] personality — he's an insatiable negotiator and he sensed that the Swedes were willing to do anything, so his list kept getting longer", she added.

And ultimately, Keneş and Aydıntaşbaş added, Nato's major powers will have to lean in to clinch a deal, in a final belittling of the Nordic sates.

"In the end, the Americans will have to come into the room and push ... it'll take US intervention," Aydıntaşbaş said.

"If the US, the UK, France, and Germany among others put their weight on the issue they could easily solve the deadlock," Keneş said.

Nato speaks

Nato and EU top officials already applied gentle pressure in remarks in Brussels on Tuesday.

"Finland and Sweden agreed to lift restrictions on arms exports [to Turkey], that has already been done. And they also agreed to work more closely in the fight against terrorism, that is also taking place," Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said.

He underlined that both were covered by Nato's Article 5 mutual-defence clause in de facto terms while awaiting ratification.

"It's inconceivable that Finland and Sweden will face any military threats without Nato reacting to that," he said.

Meanwhile, Hungary, as well as Turkey, has held out on ratification, citing procedural delays in parliament.

The Swedish foreign ministry said: "Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orbán has said that Hungary supports Sweden's and Finland's membership of Nato, and the Hungarian parliament will put the issue on the agenda in the first parliamentary session of 2023". Finland expects the same.

But it's already too late to ratify in the first parliament session in February, Hungary's opposition Democratic Coalition party told this website, pushing the matter into March at least.

Winter morale

"Moscow is laughing at us," the EU diplomat said.

But morale is also high in Finland, as it heads into the Western defence alliance.

Niinistö, in his 1 January speech, compared the Ukraine war to the Winter War in 1939, when a much smaller Finnish force defeated the Red Army.

The Finnish foreign ministry doubled down on the analogy when asked by EUobserver if the same could be repeated in Ukraine this year.

"The Ukrainian people has shown incredible resilience and unity following Russia's brutal aggression," it said. "For many Finns, this does bear a resemblance with Finland's battle during the Winter War."

And many ordinary Finns have paid €200 each to write messages on Finnish artillery shells sent to Ukraine as part of a pro-Ukrainian fund-raiser project called SignMyRocket.com.

"Merry Christmas from the Kari family!", was the message paid for by Martti J. Kari, a former Finnish intelligence chief.

"This year the money I would have spent on fireworks went to this kind of rocket to defend Ukraine from Russian aggression," Finnish novelist Sofi Oksanen also said on Twitter.

"I have a feeling also my Finnish grandfather (a veteran of the Winter War and War of Continuation) sent his wishes with me, and so did my Estonian grandfather, a forest brother [anti-Soviet partisan], and my Estonian grandmother's brothers, who died while hunted by the NKVD [the Soviet secret police]," he added.

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