On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that Turkey does not have a “good opinion” about Finland and Sweden joining NATO, posing a potential roadblock to the countries’ membership bids.
Turkey’s president remarked ahead of expected confirmations from the Nordic countries that they will apply to join the Western military alliance on Sunday.
In his negative appraisal of the membership bids, Erdogan accused both countries of harboring “terrorist organizations.”
Erdogan told journalists following Friday prayers in Istanbul, “We do not have a favourable impression.”
“Terrorist organizations utilize Scandinavian countries as a guesthouse,” he said.
Turkey has long accused Nordic nations, particularly Sweden, of housing extremist Kurdish organizations and sympathizers of Fethullah Gulen, a US-based preacher wanted in connection with a failed 2016 coup attempt.
Erdogan referenced a “error” made by Turkey’s past rulers in 1952 when they approved Greece’s NATO membership.
“We don’t want to make a second error on this issue as Turkey,” he said.
Following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, political and popular opinion in Finland and Sweden has shifted in favor of membership as a deterrent to Russian aggression.
Both countries have a long history of cooperation with NATO and are anticipated to join the alliance soon.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has stated they will be welcomed “with open arms.”
The first dissenting voice against the two Nordic countries’ NATO chances is Turkey’s “not positive” answer.
On Friday, the foreign ministers of Sweden and Finland said they hoped to meet their Turkish counterparts in Berlin on Saturday for an informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers.
Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde said in a statement to AFP that the “Turkish government had not sent this type of information directly to us.”
Finland’s Peeka Haavisto stated at a press briefing in Helsinki that he intended to meet with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu over the weekend to “continue our discussion.”
Stockholm and Helsinki have stepped up their foreign outreach in the hopes of gaining support for their possible bids.
Following a country’s decision to apply for NATO membership, the alliance’s 30 members must unanimously agree to send a formal invitation, which is followed by membership negotiations.
The final permission could come at the end of June during a NATO summit in Madrid.
The decision would then have to be ratified by all 30 member nations.
Turkey, which has good connections with both Kyiv and Moscow, has expressed interest in serving as a mediator and has volunteered to host a leaders’ conference.
Ankara has provided combat drones to Ukraine, but has refrained from imposing sanctions on Russia alongside Western allies.
Turkey’s stance on NATO membership for Sweden and Finland risks making it look like the “Hungary of the EU,” according to Washington Institute fellow Soner Cagaptay.
On a wide range of topics, including rule of law and human rights, pro-Russia Hungary frequently deviates from its EU counterparts.
Ankara should have discussed its terror-related concerns with the two countries behind closed doors, according to Cagaptay.
“The fact that this is done in public would severely harm Ankara’s image,” he remarked.
Erdogan’s remarks may exacerbate relations with France, whose President Emmanuel Macron recently stated that NATO is suffering from “brain death” as a result of Turkey’s actions.
Macron has stated his support for Finland’s proposal.
In April, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto met with Erdogan as part of the country’s NATO bid talks.
“I expressed my gratitude to President Erdogan for his efforts to bring peace to Ukraine. At the time, he tweeted, “Turkey supports Finland’s ambitions.”