Turkey ratifies Sweden's NATO membership after protracted delay

AFP , Tuesday 23 Jan 2024

Turkey's parliament on Tuesday ratified Sweden's NATO membership after more than a year of delays that upset Western efforts to show resolve in the face of Russia's war on Ukraine.

Turkish lawmakers
Turkish lawmakers vote in favor of Sweden s bid to join NATO at the Turkish Parliament in Ankara. Turkish legislators on Tuesday endorsed Sweden s membership in NATO, lifting a major hurdle on the previously nonaligned country s entry into the military alliance. AP


Lawmakers voted 287-55 in favor of the Nordic nation's bid to become the 32nd member of the alliance after it won the public backing of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Turkish leader is expected to sign Sweden's ratification document and conclude Ankara's role in the protracted saga in the coming days.

Turkey's green light leaves Hungary as the last holdout in an accession process that Sweden and Finland began in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine nearly two years ago.

Ankara forced the northern neighbors to split up their applications after finding fault with Sweden and approving Finland after a few rounds of talks.

Finland's membership last April doubled the length of NATO's border with Russia. It boosted the defenses of three tiny Baltic nations that joined the bloc following the collapse of the former Soviet Union.

Sweden and Finland pursued a policy of military non-alignment during the Cold War era between the Soviet Union and the West.

But the Ukraine war upturned geopolitical calculations and forced the two to seek the nuclear protection afforded by the world's most powerful defense bloc.

Hungary has followed Turkey's lead throughout the NATO accession process and was expected to approve Sweden without significant resistance.

On Tuesday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban invited his Swedish counterpart to Budapest to discuss the bid.

But hints emerged on Tuesday of strains between Stockholm and Budapest.

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said he saw "no reason" to negotiate with Hungary about Stockholm's NATO candidacy "at this point".

Demand for US jets 

Orban and Erdogan have maintained good rapport with Russian President Vladimir Putin throughout the Ukraine war.

NATO leaders had feared that the Kremlin was trying to use the two mercurial leaders, both regular visitors to Moscow, to seed divisions in the West.

The bloc's commanders have cast the latest round of expansion as a show of Western resolve in the face of Russia's aggression.

Erdogan's objections to Sweden's bid initially focused on Stockholm's perceived acceptance of Kurdish groups that Ankara views as "terrorists".

Sweden responded by tightening its anti-terrorism legislation and taking other security steps demanded by Erdogan.

But Erdogan then turned his gaze on an unmet US pledge to deliver a batch of F-16 fighter jets that have met resistance in Congress because of Turkey's perceived backsliding on human rights and standoffs with fellow NATO member Greece.

Turkey also wants Canada to follow through on its promise to lift a ban on the sale of a key component used for making combat drones.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Turkey over two visits in the past three months that the Swedish candidacy's ratification could help break congressional resistance to the F-16 sale.

"We have not parsed words about how ready we are for Sweden to join the alliance formally," deputy State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said after news emerged Monday that Turkey was on the verge of finally voting on Sweden's candidacy.

Turkish opposition lawmaker Cengiz Candar said during Tuesday's ratification debate that Turkey's leaders had "blackmailed" their Western partners during the drawn-out negotiation process.

"Turkey violated three pillars of foreign policy: predictability, credibility, and consistency," he said before voting for the bid.

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