Turkish experts predicted possible compromises on NATO

Although Turkey has blocked Finland and Sweden from joining NATO, Turkish experts interviewed by RBC consider a compromise possible, but warn that negotiations may drag on for a long time

Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Why Turkey objects to Finland and Sweden in NATO

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on May 23 that NATO needs to take specific measures to remove Ankara's objections to Finland and Sweden joining the alliance. “We have not received adequate support from NATO partners in the fight against terrorism. We expect NATO to take concrete steps to address concerns [over Sweden and Finland joining the alliance], rather than make useless statements,— he said (quote from The Daily Sabah).

Finland and Sweden filed formal applications for NATO membership on May 18, which all 30 countries of the alliance must approve. Erdogan said the same day that Ankara could not support the aspirations of Helsinki and Stockholm.

Later, he put forward three conditions under which he would withdraw objections, namely:

  • Helsinki and Stockholm stop supporting Kurdish groups designated as terrorist groups in Turkey;
  • providing clear security guarantees;
  • the lifting of export bans (both pretender countries imposed an arms embargo on Turkey in 2019 after another Turkish operation against the Kurds in Syria).

Turkey's position did not come as a surprise: between Ankara on the one hand, Stockholm and Helsinki— on the other hand, there are long-standing contradictions, said Torgul Ismail, head of the department of political science and international relations at Syutchu University Imam Kahramanmarash in Ankara, in a conversation with RBC. “These two states openly support terrorist organizations, the PKK; (PKK) and related Kurdish organizations in Syria and Iraq. In addition, both states once imposed sanctions against Turkey in terms of arms sales to it. So this misunderstanding has been around for a long time. Now Turkey has the opportunity, based on its national interests, to make such a decision, — he explained.

Read on RBC Pro Pro How to restore calmness and faith in the future for yourself and your employees — 5 steps Instructions Pro x The Economist What secrets Google and Apple hide in reporting Articles Pro BPIFs on foreign securities returned to the Moscow Exchange. What an investor should do Articles Pro 40% per year is already the norm: how Argentina lives in conditions of record inflation sanctions. How foreign media explain it Articles Pro Option: what errors can occur when registering it ArticlesWith the fact that the reason for Erdogan's disagreement lies solely in the support of countries for Kurdish groups, Murat Aslan, a security expert at the Turkish State Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), agrees. According to him, Ankara is well aware of the activities of the PKK and related organizations, as well as the work of the Gülen Movement. (Ankara considers Fethullah Gulen responsible for the coup attempt in the country in 2016) in Finland and Sweden for a long time. Aslan recalled that Kurdish media and PKK units operate in Sweden, in particular, there is a branch of the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which also collects funds for the needs of the organization. Sweden regularly funds local PKK units, “as if they were civil society organisations,” Aslan continues. The country has also budgeted $376 million for Kurdish groups in Syria by 2023. “In Turkey, it is believed that the Swedish government supports the Syrian offshoot of the PKK, promising it grants and communicating through official channels. Turkish media have circulated photos of Swedish delegations in northern Syria in contact with very well-known terrorists who have joined terrorist campaigns in Turkey and beyond. Even Swedish-made anti-tank ammunition and weapons were seized during counter-terrorist operations by Turkish security forces,— notes Aslan.

The expert emphasizes that Turkey is aware of the relations of other European countries with the PKK. According to him, the fact that members of the PKK and the Gülen Movement receive a residence permit or citizenship in the EU, is considered by Turkey as a “hostile attitude”; to its security interests. Aslan recalled that there is also a Kurdish representation in Moscow, which, in his opinion, could become a problem for bilateral relations between Russia and Turkey.

The Valdai Club expert, Professor of International Relations at the Middle East Technical University of Turkey, Huseyin Bagci, believes that Erdogan's decision on Finland and Sweden is not related to Russia's position on NATO expansion. “First of all, this is an internal question,” & mdash; he emphasized. “Turkey would like to receive written guarantees that the PKK and the Syrian People’s Protection Units (YPG) will not be active in northern Syria, nor in Finland and Sweden, which will be very difficult to implement: they can simply change their names and continue their activities,” — Baggi told RBC.

What is the status of the PKK in the EU and the US

“PKK” (PKK) is recognized as a terrorist organization in Turkey, the United States, the European Union (Sweden and Finland are members of it). The US State Department designated the PKK as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997. The European Union first recognized the organization as a terrorist organization in 2002, but then in 2008 the European Court of Justice ruled that the EU did not provide sufficient justification for classifying the PKK as a terrorist organization. Nevertheless, Brussels did not change its position on the PKK. In 2018, the organization again won a trial for wrongful listing as a terrorist organization, but the EU again upheld its decision.

What can be a compromise

In the end, Turkey, which has been a member of NATO since 1952, will agree to Finland and Sweden joining the alliance, Baggi is sure. “Turkey has a veto and will try to delay, as far as possible, Sweden and Finland joining the alliance, so the negotiations may take a long time. But in the long run, Turkey will not be able to prevent the membership of these countries in NATO. Six months, a year, two years? Let's see, — says the expert. If Erdogan is not re-elected in next year's elections, then this process will go much faster, he stipulates. If Erdogan remains in power, then perhaps he will try to use the same scheme that was previously used to resolve the dispute between Greece and North Macedonia. “It took ten years just for North Macedonia to change its name and be able to apply,” — reminded Baggi.

In June 2018, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev put an end to the dispute and signed an agreement according to which Macedonia received a new name— Republic of North Macedonia. In return, the Greek authorities stopped blocking Skopje's attempts to join NATO and the EU. For the first time, Greece blocked the application of a neighboring country in 2008.

The former name of the republic did not suit Athens, since the toponym “Macedonia” extends geographically, including to the Greek Aegean Macedonia, which supposedly could give the Macedonians a reason to claim rights to Greek territories and cultural heritage. North Macedonia became a member of NATO in 2020.

Compromise is always possible, since NATO expansion does not contradict Turkey's national interests, Ismail is sure. “When Finland and Sweden withdraw their support for the PKK and officially declare it, we will be very close to a compromise. Turkey already had such an experience with Greece, which Ankara supported without looking back, but in the end, Athens does not fulfill its obligations, — he said. In 1980, Ankara, despite unresolved differences over the control of airspace in the Aegean, supported the restoration of full participation of Athens in NATO.

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Aslan also believes that Turkey could support the entry Finland and Sweden in NATO on the condition that “these countries will review their policies and respect Turkey's security interests.” “But there must be visible policy changes and concrete steps. If geopolitical and security considerations push these states to take advantage of Alliance guarantees, they must sacrifice their “hobbies” to for the sake of vital interests»,— he concluded.

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