The Turkish president agreed to abandon his opposition to Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO membership bid this week after Turkey’s security concerns were addressed in a trilateral memorandum of understanding.
“I am pleased to announce that we now have an agreement that paves the way for Finland and Sweden to join NATO,” said the Western military alliance’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg after the meeting between the three countries.
“Turkey, Finland and Sweden have signed a memorandum that addresses Turkey’s concerns, including around arms exports and the fight against terrorism,” Stoltenberg said.
Turkey had accused both countries of harboring Kurdish PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) members, as well as supporters of Muhammed Fethullah Gülen – the alleged inciter of the 2016 coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Gülen is an Islamic scholar and preacher based in the United States.
Turkey has been especially concerned about Sweden, which has a large Kurdish immigrant community, and few known but vocal members and supporters of the PKK. The Kurdistan Workers Party is on the terror list in both the U.S. and the European Union.
To coax Erdoğan to drop his objection to their NATO bid, Sweden and Finland agreed to amend their legislation and “crack down” on the PKK.
“No ally has suffered more brutal terrorist attacks than Turkey, including from the terrorist group PKK,” Stoltenberg said at the press conference.
“As NATO allies, Finland and Sweden commit to fully support Turkey against threats to its national security. This includes further amending their domestic legislation, cracking down on PKK activities and entering into an agreement with Turkey on extradition.”
In other concessions to Turkey, the pair pledged not to support FETO, an organization founded and headed by Gülen, or U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish groups which Turkey considers offshoots of the PKK in Syria.
According to reports, Turkey dropped its opposition to the NATO bids only after U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Erdoğan on the phone. Sweden and Finland reportedly had sought Biden’s help in reaching an understanding with the Turkish president.
Seemingly unsatisfied with bringing Sweden and Finland in line with Turkish interests, on Tuesday, Erdoğan accused Germany, the Netherlands and Greece of “harboring terrorist groups against Turkey.”
He also berated the U.S. for sending arms to the YPG (the “People’s Protection Units”), a Syrian Kurdish group consisting mostly of ethnic Kurds, in addition to Arabs and foreign volunteers.
“The United States is the number one country of NATO. Truckloads of weapons came from the U.S. This morning, we had a talk with [Biden] but I will reiterate these to him during our meeting this evening or tomorrow,” Erdoğan said. “How come all these weapons are dispatched to the PKK/YPG, while we are two partner countries within NATO that stand shoulder to shoulder. … Against whom are these weapons used? They are used against Turkey.”
The trilateral agreement was signed just in time for NATO’s Madrid summit on Wednesday. NATO members met to discuss, among other things, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its consequences for the security of NATO’s member countries.
NATO leaders agreed to place about 300,000 troops at high readiness from next year in face of the threat Russia poses to other European countries. Terrorism was named as another threat to members of the transatlantic alliance.
Turkey’s opposition to NATO membership for Sweden and Finland has been seen as a way Turkey can publicly admonish support for the PKK and the armed Kurdish groups in Syria. However, it is also perceived as a way to divert attention from Turkey’s internal problems.
“Erdoğan’s intransigence is widely attributed to domestic political considerations, including a desperate need to divert attention from the dire state of Turkey’s economy,” stated Kemal Kirişci , a non-resident senior fellow of Brookings Institute.
“Playing to rampant nationalist and anti-Western feelings” might be Erdoğan’s way to boost “his sagging poll ratings,” Kirişci said.