Finland’s Foreign Minister Tuesday suggested that his country may consider joining NATO without neighboring Sweden if Turkey continues to block their joint bid to enter the military alliance.
Pekka Haavisto later backpedaled, but his comments were the first time a leading government official in either Nordic country appeared to raise doubts about jointly becoming NATO members.
Sweden and Finland, which had both maintained military neutrality for roughly 200 and 100 years respectively, submitted simultaneous bids in May to join NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, in response to Russia’s February invasion of its sovereign neighbor, Ukraine.
At the time, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called the countries’ joint bid for membership a “turning point in security” on the continent of Europe. He then pushed to fast-track their entries, which require unanimous consensus from NATO’s 30 current member nations.
On January 9, Stoltenberg said “the time has come” for Sweden to join the alliance because it had done what was necessary to secure holdout nation Turkey’s approval for membership.
However, Sweden’s top court has ruled against extraditing a journalist wanted by Turkey for alleged links to a 2016 failed coup, prompting Turkey’s Foreign Minister to say Sweden was not even “halfway” through fulfilling the commitments necessary to secure Turkey’s support.
On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Sweden again not to expect support for its NATO application following weekend protests in Stockholm by an anti-Islam activist and pro-Kurdish groups.
Asked a day later whether it still made sense for Finland to proceed jointly for NATO membership with the Swedes, Minister Haavisto told broadcaster YLE that his country would have to “evaluate the situation if it turns out that Sweden’s application is stalling for a long time to come.”
However, Haavisto later told reporters in Parliament that his comment was “imprecise” and that Finland’s ambition to enter NATO jointly with Sweden remained unchanged.
Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström said Stockholm was “in contact with Finland to find out what is really meant.” He said in a statement to the Associated Press that Sweden respects the “agreement between Sweden, Finland and Turkey regarding our NATO membership.”
Pro-Kurdish and anti-Turkish demonstrations in Stockholm over the weekend have only complicated matters. The Swedish government has tried to distance itself from the demonstrations while insisting they were protected by freedom of speech. Turkey responded angrily, canceling a planned visit to Ankara by Sweden’s Defense Minister.
And Erdogan said, “You have terrorist organizations roaming wild on your streets and avenues and then you expect us to support them in joining NATO? There is no such thing, do not expect such support from us.”