Shortly before the NATO summit at the end of June, it was at least possible to soften the Turkish blockade against the accession of Sweden and Finland – and with a memorandum of the three countries to create the basis for opening the accession process. Since then, 28 of the 30 NATO countries have ratified the accession of the two northern countries, only Türkiye and Hungary still hesitate. Ankara points out that there are still points in the memorandum that need to be worked through.
In the three-page document, Finland and Sweden promise Türkiye, among other things, that as future allies there will be no more restrictions on arms exports, the Swedes have adjusted their hitherto strict course on this issue. The pledge to support Türkiye in the fight against “threats to national security” plays a major role. For example, Finland and Sweden have committed themselves to no longer supporting the YPG and PYD and to “speedily” processing Turkish extradition requests for terrorist suspects.
Sweden’s new Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson flew to Ankara ten days ago to ease the tensions with the Turkish President. He has been blocking the admission of Sweden and Finland to NATO since May, arguing that both countries support terrorists. Kristersson, who has been in office for just a month, assured before the trip that in future the two countries would work closely together on counter-terrorism.
At the press conference in Ankara, he then literally rolled over his head, raving about the centuries-old Turkish-Swedish connections, the extraordinarily close friendship between the two countries, and at some point it sounded as if Ankara was closer to Stockholm than Oslo or Helsinki.
The Swedish Foreign Minister also sounded, as if the two countries have no differences: “We are working through a clearly defined plan to fulfill everything we agreed on in the memorandum between Finland, Turkey and Sweden ahead of the NATO summit in Madrid. If all the conditions of this memorandum are met, the Turkish Parliament will approve. Now we ensure that the various offices and authorities meet these conditions. The meeting between President Erdoğan and the Prime Minister confirmed that there are still outstanding issues that need to be resolved.”
Ever since Russia launched its war of aggression against Ukraine, Sweden has vehemently wanted to join NATO – a huge step for a country that has been neutral for more than 200 years, has been able to stay out of all wars and has benefited enormously economically from this nonalignment. 28 NATO member countries have agreed, only Hungary and Türkiye have yet to ratify the request. In this respect, it would have been a great first victory for the newly crowned prime minister if he could have persuaded Erdoğan to give in here in Ankara.
The whole debate gave Erdoğan a domestic political triumph: he listened to Kristersson’s statement before the public with a stony expression and finally said that the Swedish efforts were unfortunately not enough, that all terrorists who had found shelter in Sweden had to be extradited.
The meeting was actually already over when a journalist asked the Turkish President who exactly he wanted to see handed over. And then – boom: “One person is in Sweden,” said Erdoğan, “I’ll call him, this terrorist is an example. His extradition to Türkiye is very important to us.” And suddenly there is a single person on the world political stage and is said to be to blame for the fact that two countries cannot be admitted to NATO.
Why him? Türkiye is accusing that man of membership in the Gülen movement. Its followers almost never make their membership public. In addition to public preaching and educational work, according to its Turkish critics, the movement is a secret organization that is deliberately infiltrating the state.
The accused man in Sweden denies any connection to Gülen in an interview with a Swedish newspaper, a Swedish expert on Türkiye added: “The Gülen movement is not considered a terrorist organization here, in the United States, or in any other European country.” So under current Swedish law, supporters cannot be extradited either. “You would have to prove him some real crime, and he doesn’t seem to have committed it.” When asked about persons, the Turkish government wants to be extradited, the Foreign Ministry in Stockholm argues that “everything that is stipulated in the memorandum should, of course, be fulfilled. But it has to be done with respect to the Swedish constitution, the rule of law and legal certainty. Within this framework, the Swedish government will be able to fulfill its obligations under the memorandum.”
It will be interesting to see, how the new right-wing Swedish government will handle the demands by the Turkish ruler. The dispute over Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO accession is not a bilateral matter, but will define European security policy for the next decades.
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