On June 28, the first day of the NATO Summit in Madrid, Jens Stoltenberg, the alliance’s Secretary-General, announced that Turkey had decided to support the accession of Sweden and Finland. The statement came after a meeting between the NATO Secretary-General, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson. Following this meeting, Turkey, Finland and Sweden signed a memorandum in which the two Scandinavian countries committed to support Turkey against threats to its national security. On the other hand, Turkey has decided to support Finland and Sweden joining NATO.
Shortly before the signing of the memorandum, a version of it was published on the website of the Presidential Administration of Turkey and includes the following:
• Finland’s and Sweden’s commitment not to support the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), PYD (Democratic Union Party), YPG (People’s Defence Units) and the Fethullah Gülen Movement known in Turkey as FETÖ (Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organization).
• Recognition by the two Scandinavian states of the PKK as a terrorist organization and their commitment to prevent its activities, and also those of other terrorist organizations and their affiliates.
• Lifting the embargo on arms exports imposed on Turkey by Sweden.
• Strengthening the cooperation between the three states in the fight against terrorism, organized crime and other challenges.
• Sweden’s and Finland’s consideration of the intelligence and evidence provided by Turkey for the processing of deportation and extradition requests regarding terrorist suspects.
• Investigating the fundraising and recruitment of the PKK and its affiliated and front-line organizations, in addition to banning them in Sweden and Finland.
• Cooperation between the three states in the fight against misinformation and terrorist organizations’ propaganda, including activities that incite violence against Turkey.
• Turkey’s support for Sweden and Finland in the NATO accession process.
• Creation of a Permanent Joint Mechanism consisting of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Justice and the intelligence services of the three states for the implementation of these measures.
Less than 24 hours after the signing of the memorandum, Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ announced that Turkey would ask Sweden and Finland to extradite 33 people accused of terrorism and linked to the PKK and the Fethullah Gülen Movement.
In May 2022, Finland and Sweden submitted their application for NATO membership. At that time, Ankara blocked the start of accession talks with the two states. The Turkish president said that if Finland and Sweden do not take into account Turkey’s concerns about terrorist threats, Ankara will not support their accession to NATO. Then, President Erdoğan said that Sweden and Finland must stop political, financial and military support for terrorist organizations, referring to the PKK, PYD and YPG. The Turkish administration claims that there are people in Finland and Sweden who have links with the aforementioned organizations and provide them with money and weapons. As for weapons, during the Turkish army’s military operations against the PKK in northern Iraq, Turkish officials stated that anti-tank weapons produced in Sweden by Saab Bofors Dynamics were found.
In addition, Erdoğan stressed that he would not support the two states’ accession to NATO if they did not lift the arms embargo imposed on Turkey. Sweden, Finland, Germany, France and Switzerland have decided to impose an embargo on arms exports to Turkey following the Turkish October 2019 military operation in northern Syria.
PKK, PYD, YPG and the Fethullah Gülen Movement
The PKK, PYD, YPG and the Fethullah Gülen Movement are considered terrorist organizations by Ankara and a threat to its security. The PKK was founded in the late 1970s by Abdullah Öcalan with the aim of creating a Kurdish state in south-eastern Turkey, a Kurdish-majority region. The PKK organized numerous terrorist attacks in Turkey and waged a guerrilla war against the authorities. The PYD is the Kurdish party in northern Syria, and the YPG is the defence unit set up to protect the Kurds throughout that territory. Turkey claims that there is a close link between the PKK and Kurdish organizations in northern Syria, which it considers terrorist organizations (PYD/YPG). While the PYD denies the allegations, Ankara quotes as evidence the posters and paintings of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, which are present at the organization’s headquarters and displayed by Kurdish fighters in Syria. According to Reuters, in October 2017, after Kurdish forces liberated the city of Raqqa from Daesh troops, they placed a large poster of Abdullah Öcalan in the centre of the city. Then, in a video posted by the YPG press office, several Kurdish fighters claimed that their victories and results were based on Öcalan’s opinions and philosophy. The United States and the European Union have declared the PKK a terrorist organization, but not the PYD and the YPG, to Turkey’s displeasure. For the United States and other NATO members, the PYD and the YPG are organizations that have played a decisive role in defeating Daesh. Regarding the Fethullah Gülen Movement, Turkey declared this organization as a terrorist one in May 2016.
The right of veto within NATO
Decisions within NATO are taken by consensus, which means that all members must agree on each decision. This also applies to the opening of accession negotiations with other states. If a country does not agree, it can exercise its veto and block certain decisions. In 2009, Turkey used its veto to block the election of Danish Anders Fogh Rasmussen as the alliance’s Secretary-General. At that time, Erdoğan, who was then the acting prime minister, said he could not accept the appointment because Denmark was hosting PKK members. According to Reuters, Turkey lifted its veto after US President Barack Obama promised that one of the Deputy Secretary-Generals will be Turkish and that Turkish commanders will be included in NATO’s Command Structure. In November 2019, Ankara used its veto to block the implementation of the NATO defence plan for Poland and the Baltic countries. The Turkish officials announced that they would lift the veto if the alliance recognized the YPG as a terrorist organization. Finally, Ankara abandoned this condition and its veto.
Turkey is not the only NATO country that has used its veto power to further its strategic interests. In February 2003, France, Germany and Belgium used their veto power to block a plan to defend Turkey if it was attacked by Iraq. In 2008, France and Germany announced that they would not support Ukraine and Georgia’s accession to NATO and that they would block it. Also in 2008, Greece used its veto to block North Macedonia’s accession to NATO, due to disputes between them. Its veto lasted for more than 10 years, until 2019, when the two parties reached an agreement.
After months of negotiations, Turkey has decided to support Sweden and Finland’s accession to NATO. By signing this memorandum, their accession to the alliance remains a simple formality. However, this is expected to lead to increased tensions between NATO and the Russian Federation. In April, Moscow said it would deploy nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles in the Kaliningrad region if the two northern states joined the alliance. In May, Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, said that Sweden and Finland’s accession to NATO posed a threat to the Russian Federation’s security and that Moscow would take action.