Turkey’s Erdogan backs Finland’s NATO bid, but Sweden will have to wait

By Ece Toksabay and Ceyda Caglayan

ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday Turkey’s parliament will begin ratifying Finland’s accession to NATO, removing the biggest remaining hurdle to expanding the western defense alliance while the war in Ukraine rages on, though he said he would withheld Sweden’s consent.

Speaking in Ankara alongside Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto, Erdogan said Helsinki has won Turkey’s blessing after taking concrete steps to honor its promises to crack down on what Ankara sees as terrorists and unblock arms exports.

The three countries signed an agreement in Madrid last year outlining steps to address Turkey’s concerns about accession, but Ankara said Sweden hadn’t gone far enough.

Speaking to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg by phone, Erdogan said Turkey is committed to continuing talks with Sweden, with progress directly related to the concrete steps it is taking, the Turkish presidency said.

The parliaments of all 30 NATO members must ratify newcomers. Finland would be the first enlargement since North Macedonia joined the transatlantic pact in 2020.

“We have decided to start the ratification of Finland’s NATO accession process in our parliament,” Erdogan told reporters after meeting Niinisto, adding that he hopes parliament will approve the motion before the May 14 elections.

Niinisto said he welcomed the decision, calling it “very important” for Finland, which shares a long and remote border with Russia. He added that it was important that neighboring Sweden also join the alliance.

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said Sweden still hopes to be admitted to NATO by the alliance’s meeting in Vilnius in July.

“Our partners are helping us both to ensure that we can join NATO as soon as possible and to ensure our security until we become a full member,” he said.

“It’s about when Sweden joins, not if.”


In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO last year, but faced unexpected objections from Turkey, which joined in 1952.

Ankara says Stockholm is home to members of so-called terrorist groups, particularly the Kurdish militant group PKK, an accusation Sweden denies.

Turkey wants Sweden to extradite a number of people it describes as terrorists, but some of those requests have been denied.

Billstrom said the cases would be decided by the courts. “There will be decisions that can be positive from a Turkish point of view, but they can also be negative, and that’s the way it is,” he said.

Aside from Hungary, whose ruling party has said it supports the two Nordic bids but has delayed formal steps to approve them, Turkey is the only NATO member that has yet to give the green light to Finland and Sweden.

Ankara suspended talks in January after a far-right politician burned a copy of Muslims’ holy book, the Koran, in Stockholm, but lower-level talks resumed in Brussels last week.

Amid simmering tensions with Sweden, Erdogan signaled in January that Turkey could support Helsinki ahead of Stockholm. Washington and other NATO members had hoped the two Nordic countries would join the alliance at a July 11 NATO summit in Vilnius.

Erdogan’s blessing on Finland’s membership comes nearly a year after he shocked members by threatening to veto the bids and two months ahead of what is seen as the most momentous vote in Turkey’s history.

Turkey’s parliament is expected to ratify Finland before it closes in mid-April ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for May 14.

The expected approval of one of the two Nordic bidders could be welcomed by Western diplomats and investors.

“Investors want Turkey to return to closer ties with its traditional Western allies,” said Blaise Antin, head of EM sovereign research at Los Angeles-based asset manager TCW.

“Headlines about vetoing NATO expansion or helping Russia circumvent sanctions unsettle Turkey’s traditional economic and investment partners in the United States and Europe,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Essi Lehto in Helsinki, Simon Johnson in Stockholm and Jonathan Spicer in Istanbul; writing by Daren Butler; editing by Jonathan Spicer, Mark Potter and Jan Harvey)


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