Tuesday

27th Feb 2024

Turkish MPs vote for Sweden's Nato accession

  • Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pressured Sweden to hand over militants and dissidents (Photo: nato.int)
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Turkey has waved Sweden into Nato, marking a strategic blow to Russia in the High North and Baltic Sea regions.

Turkish MPs voted by 287 to 55 with four abstentions to ratify Sweden's Nato entry in Ankara on Tuesday (23 January) evening.

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The move was "in line with the national interests of our country", said Fuat Oktay, an MP from the ruling AKP party, in the parliamentary debate.

The AKP, the nationalist MHP, and main opposition CHP parties voted yes. The nationalist Iyi and Islamist Saadet parties voted no.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan still has to inscribe the decision into law in the next few days.

That will leave Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán alone to stand in the way of Nato's historic Scandinavian expansion.

But Orbán is expected to follow Erdoğan, meaning that the Western alliance could formally accept Sweden in a matter of a few weeks' time — a moment that will see Nato's Article V mutual-defence zone extended by swathes of strategically valuable Scandinavian land and maritime territory.

Sweden's Gotland Island in the Baltic Sea, for instance, controls Russia's Baltic Fleet access to the world's oceans.

Nato expansion is hated by Russian president Vladimir Putin, who invaded Ukraine in 2022 after first demanding that Nato retreated to Cold War-era borders.

The Erdoğan breakthrough also comes as 90,000 Nato troops, including already Swedish ones, hold exercises in Europe this week designed to deter and repel a potential Russian invasion.

Sweden is following Finland into Nato, ending decades of neutrality by the two Nordic states, in response to Russian aggression.

Assorted Swedish, Dutch, Estonian, German, and Lithuanian generals and politicians also warned the general public in January that if Putin defeated Ukraine then he might well attack a Nato country in the next few years.

"It is not a small step for our regional security that Sweden and Finland decided to join," Estonia's foreign minister Margus Tsahkna told EUobserver on Monday.

"We [Nato] have a new member, Finland, and a newcomer soon, Sweden, so the defence situation and capabilities have changed in our region, so to exercise is important," he said, referring to the Nato military drill.

"The Nato exercise is not a preparation to attack anybody. Nato's a defence organisation. It's to defend our lives and our territory," Tsahkna added.

Geopolitics aside, the Turkey breakthrough comes after a year and a half of Turkish pressure for Sweden to crack down on exiled anti-Erdoğan militants and dissidents.

Oktay, the Turkish MP, claimed in Ankara on Tuesday that Sweden had changed its whole culture on freedom of expression due to Turkey.

Sweden tightened its counter-terrorism laws and Swedish courts did comply with a handful of Turkish extradition requests.

But Swedish police have allowed people to keep burning Korans in anti-Islam protests if they wanted to.

And when asked if rule of law in Sweden had survived intact despite the Swedish concessions, Mårten Schultz, a law professor at Stockholm University, said: "Yes, without a doubt".

Meanwhile, Orbán tweeted an invitation on Tuesday for Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristerssen to come to Budapest to "negotiate on Sweden's Nato accession".

The visit was meant to "build trust," said Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó.

Swedish foreign minister Tobias Billström replied: "I don't see any reason to negotiate in the current situation, though ... we can have a dialogue and continue to discuss questions".

Orbán had previously tried to get Sweden to help him claw back EU money being withheld in punishment for his domestic thuggery.

But for Jamie Shea, a former senior Nato official, Orbán is likely to get nothing now that he is on his own against 30 other Nato leaders, who all want Sweden in.

Losing sleep

"They [the Hungarians] will back down and ratify," said Shea, citing also the strategic gravity of the situation.

"Today, we see that Russia is on a permanent war footing. It has converted large parts of its industry to war production. It is importing large quantities of Iranian and North Korean weapons. It is mobilising hundreds of thousands of its young men," he said.

"Putin has made it clear that Russia sees the West as an existential threat and he is using propaganda and political coercion to condition Russian society to accept war as inevitable and necessary. Even Russian school children undergo military training," said Shea, who now teaches war studies at Exeter University in the UK.

"You cannot live next door to this kind of country and not lose sleep at night," he added.

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