9th Dec 2023

Turkey to let Sweden into Nato, as Gaza war rages

  • Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Photo: Reuters/Umit Bektas)
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Hungary has become the last Nato ally still stalling on admitting Sweden, following a sudden change of heart by Turkey.

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, told the world via a laconic post on X on Monday (23 October) that he had signed the accession protocol and referred it to the Turkish parliament.

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It is unclear when Turkish MPs will vote and Erdoğan has a track record of fabricating delays and introducing extra demands.

But the move was welcomed by Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristersson, who said: "[Turkish] parliamentary procedures will now commence. We are looking forward to becoming a member of Nato".

Erdoğan's timing meant he looked like a man of his word, after he had promised an October deadline to Nato leaders in July.

Some Swedish media speculated that the Gaza war, which threatened to destabilise the whole Middle East, had prompted him to move because he wanted the US to sell Turkey high-tech F-16 fighter jets more quickly.

The US was previously seeking for Erdoğan to ratify Sweden before fulfilling the arms deal.

But military calculations aside, the Gaza war also created a political logic for the Nato decision.

"He [Erdoğan] knows that there will be some difficult weeks ahead as he criticises Israel for its military actions in Gaza," said Jamie Shea, a former senior Nato official who now teaches war studies at Exeter University in the UK.

"Erdoğan is also aware of the killings [on 20 October] of two Swedish football fans in Brussels by an Islamist terrorist. Despite his toughness on Sweden, the last thing he wants is to appear, particularly at the present time, as an apologist of terrorism," Shea added.

"So at a polarising time in the Middle East where Turkey will be pulled away from Washington and the West, moving on Sweden and Nato is a smart decision by Erdoğan to cut himself a little slack and make himself less isolated and vulnerable," Shea said.

In any case, the Turkish move leaves Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán as the last of 31 Nato members to continue stalling on Sweden's entry.

Turkey and Hungary had been coordinating their approach, with Budapest indicating it would follow Ankara's lead.

Both Erdoğan and Orbán have absolute majorities in parliament and could ram through the ratification vote without further delays.

"I hope the Fidesz [Orbán's party] government gives up its childish attitude and the Hungarian parliament ratifies Sweden's Nato accession on Tuesday, as we proposed last week," said Ágnes Vadai, the shadow defence minister in the opposition Democratic Coalition party.

"They're able to do it whenever they want," she said.

But for his part, Orbán and his foreign minister Péter Szijjártó showed little good will toward their Western partners on Monday.

Orbán launched his party's campaign for the 2024 European Parliament elections on Monday by describing the EU as a "bad contemporary parody" of Soviet rule in a speech.

He also shook hands with Russian president Vladimir Putin in China last week, in the teeth of EU sanctions.

And Szijjártó claimed there was universal "fatigue towards Ukraine" in EU foreign ministers' talks in Luxembourg on Monday, even though several other ministers told press the opposite.

Meanwhile, the EU ministers struggled to agree a unanimous line on the Gaza war.

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said there was "broad support" to call for a "humanitarian pause" in fighting in order to help deliver aid.

Just 20 or so aid trucks a day where getting into Gaza, Borrell noted, as the death toll from Israeli air strikes passed 5,000 people.

The UN has called for a "humanitarian ceasefire", but "a pause can be affected more swiftly," Borrell said, ahead of EU leaders' talks on the subject on Thursday.

"The EU is on the side of civilians," said Swedish foreign minister Elina Valtonen, after some top EU officials, such as European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, had faced criticism for giving Israel a carte blanche in the war.

"We need to speak with Israel and restate our complete support for them, to speak with our friends about maybe how things could be done maybe a little differently," said Latvian minister Krišjanis Karinš.


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