NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday he was heading to Ankara, Turkey to discuss its blocking Finland and Sweden from joining the alliance.
Both Sweden and Finland broke their respective 200 and 100 years of military neutrality to apply for NATO membership in May in response to Russia’s invasion of its sovereign neighbor, Ukraine. Both nations must receive unanimous consensus from all 30 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s current member nations, including Turkey.
But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been especially resistant to approving Sweden’s membership. The two nations are at odds over pro-Kurdish demonstrations in Stockholm and elsewhere. Further, Erdogan is demanding the extradition of some 120 people from Sweden whom he refers to as “terrorists.”
Erdogan has even hinted that Turkey might approve Finland’s application to join NATO before taking any action on Sweden. On Tuesday Stoltenberg played down the need for Finland and Sweden to join the alliance simultaneously, saying, “The main question is not whether Finland and Sweden are ratified together. The main question is that they are both ratified as full members as soon as possible.”
That’s a turnaround for Stoltenberg and most NATO members, who have long insisted that the two Nordic nations join at the same time.
“There are different assessments in Turkey about to what extent Finland and Sweden are in the same position to be ratified, and that is a Turkish decision,” Stoltenberg told reporters Wednesday, after chairing a meeting of NATO defense ministers. “That’s not a NATO decision. It’s a decision by Turkey.”
Stoltenberg also reiterated his belief that both countries have fulfilled their commitments to NATO—as well as to Turkey—and should be allowed to join.
However, Turkey is also in an election year, and Nordic membership in NATO is potentially a vote-winning issue.
Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson has said it would be “unfortunate” if Finland entered NATO first.