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Erdogan says Turkey doesn’t support Sweden, Finland joining NATO

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Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan holds a news conference during the NATO summit at the Alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium June 14, 2021.

Yves Herman | Reuters

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has thrown Sweden and Finland’s potential NATO membership into doubt, just as both countries are on the cusp of applying to join the alliance in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We are following the developments regarding Sweden and Finland, but we don’t hold positive views,” Erdogan told press in Istanbul on Friday.

NATO ascension for a new member state requires consensus approval from all existing members. Turkey joined NATO in 1952, and has the second-largest military in the 30-member alliance after the United States. Erdogan referenced the Nordic countries’ hosting of members of the Kurdish Workers’ Party, or PKK, which Turkey considers a terrorist group.

The countries are “home to many terrorist organizations,” Erdogan claimed. He also referenced NATO’s acceptance of Greece as a member in 1952 as a mistake. Turkey and Greece are longtime rivals and have fought in conflicts against one another even as NATO members.

“As Turkey, we don’t want to repeat similar mistakes. Furthermore, Scandinavian countries are guesthouses for terrorist organizations,” Erdogan said. “They are even members of the parliament in some countries,” he added. “It is not possible for us to be in favor.”

Sweden currently has six sitting Kurdish members of parliament, representing the Liberal, Sweden Democrats, Social Democrats and Left Party.

CNBC has reached out to the Swedish and Finnish foreign ministries for comment.

Finland’s leaders on Thursday called for NATO membership “without delay” and neighboring Sweden is expected to follow suit, leaving it all but certain that the Scandinavian countries would soon abandon their traditional positions of neutrality toward both NATO and Russia in favor of joining the mutual defense pact.

The leaders of Finland and Sweden have both said a decision on whether to apply for NATO membership can be expected sooner rather than later.

Paul Wennerholm | Afp | Getty Images

Public support for joining the organization in both countries has soared since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. Finland shares a long border with Russia, and Moscow has threatened severe consequences if they were to become NATO members. Opposition to NATO enlargement was one of the reasons the Kremlin cited for its invasion of Ukraine, which has sought NATO membership for several years.

In response to Erdogan’s comments, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto urged patience and to take the process “step by step.” Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said she was very confident that her country’s membership bid would receive unanimous backing from NATO members.

Tim Ash, emerging markets strategist at Bluebay Asset Management and longtime Turkey expert, sees Erdogan as trying to use leverage as a NATO member to extract concessions.

“I assume that Erdogan is looking for some quid pro quo here on military equipment supplies, better fighter jets, missile defence, et al,” Ash wrote in a note Friday.

“But Erdogan’s stance will absolutely not be appreciated in Western capital, nor in Ukraine. It will be seen as just another sign of Turkey pulling away from the Western alliance.”

Turkey’s highly strategic Incirlik airbase is home to 50 of the U.S.’s tactical nuclear weapons, which some U.S. officials have suggested removing due to increasing tensions with Washington and Ankara in recent years, centered partly on Erdogan’s warming ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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