NATO enlargement veto: how far will Erdogan go?

Status: 05/19/2022 3:14 p.m.

Turkish President Erdogan vehemently opposes Finland and Sweden joining NATO – and is likely keeping an eye on his polls as well. Is he trying to jack up the price of his approval?

Von Oliver Mayer-Rüth, ARD-Studio Istanbul

Today, on Youth and Sports Day, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomes Turkish students to his palace’s gigantic library in Ankara, which has more than 1,000 rooms. Television cameras are rolling. A young man’s question about Erdogan’s decision to deny Finland and Sweden NATO membership seems to have been ordered.

Olivier Mayer-Rüth

The President reaffirms that both countries are harboring and financing terrorists and therefore he will say no to the security alliance and will support it.

A sensitive subject in Turkey

Erdogan has not missed any opportunity these days to emphasize his position. He knows that the majority of Turks are very sensitive to the question of the PKK. The Kurdish Workers’ Party, classified as a terrorist organization, and the Turkish state have been fighting each other for more than three decades. Many bombs killed Turkish soldiers, but also civilians.

Moreover, Erdogan’s polls have been falling for months due to the economic crisis. His re-election in June 2023 is not assured. The Finnish and Swedish desire to join NATO in the wake of Russia’s brutal war of aggression in Ukraine is apparently the right thing to do.

A polarizing pattern

The Turkish president has mastered the art of polarization like few people. This time, according to Erdogan’s account, it is about the Swedes and Finns, who, from the president’s point of view, support the anti-Turkish PKK, and the safety of his compatriots.

It is also a bit like NATO, whose members have strongly criticized Turkey for its offensive in northern Syria in 2019 against the Kurdish YPG militia, allied with the PKK.

Ultimately, it’s against the West again, which many nationalist Turks believe wants nothing more than to keep the country and its nation small.

“logical consequence”

A senior adviser to Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu said ARDErdogan’s veto is the logical consequence of the Turkish state’s security interests on the border with Syria.

Besides the alleged lack of support in pursuing the PKK, which is classified as a terrorist organization in the EU, there are arms deliveries from Sweden to the Kurdish YPG militia or indirectly to the PKK.

Swedish weapons irritate Turkey

In June 2016, pro-government Turkish media reported that Ankara’s military seized an AT-4 rocket-propelled grenade near the town of Nusaybin. The weapon was developed by Swedish gunsmiths Saab Bofors Dynamics and slightly modified by the US military. Similar reports have been reported in subsequent years, most recently in 2020.

Ankara was particularly upset when, in 2021, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde met with a delegation of Syrian politicians whom Turkey accuses of acting as the political arm of the Syrian branch of the PKK.

Linde posted a photo of the meeting on Twitter and wrote that “Sweden remains an active partner”. It was then said that Stockholm would increase its regional investment in Kurdish-controlled northern Syria to $376 million in 2023.

The problem with the F-16

Another interpretation of the Turkish President’s environment is that Erdogan also wants to send a signal to US President Joe Biden. Erdogan may be using his endorsement of the two Scandinavian countries to join NATO as leverage in negotiations with the United States over F-16 fighter jets.

The US armed forces are also cooperating with the Syrian branch of the PKK YPG in the fight against the so-called Islamic State. This has repeatedly led to rifts between Ankara and Washington.

What will the price be?

It seems that this time Erdogan only wants to be ripped off at a high price. If Erdogan can stand up to both Sweden and Finland, but also the rest of NATO, and can even bring about a change in policy regarding the Kurdish militia through negotiations, that should certainly score points for him. on a national level.

In the meantime, some NATO members may wonder how reliable Turkey really is under Erdogan if he uses the desire of two EU members to join NATO for domestic political purposes.

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