Can Turkey veto Finland and Sweden NATO membership? Why Recep Tayyip Erdoga wants to block them from joining

The Turkish president accuses the two Nordic nations of harbouring members of terrorist organisations

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Turkey’s president announced the country’s opposition to Finland and Sweden joining NATO, just hours after the two Nordic nations said they would seek membership.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the countries should not bother sending delegations to convince Turkey, a key NATO member, of their bids.

He is angered by what he sees as their willingness to host Kurdish militants.

On Saturday (21 May) President Erdogan said Turkey would not look “positively” on Sweden and Finland’s NATO bids unless its terror-related concerns were addressed.

NATO members, Norway, Denmark and Iceland have all said they are ready to support Sweden and Finland, while the UK has already given security guarantees to both countries to cover the transition period.

However, without the support of all NATO members, Sweden and Finland cannot join the military alliance.

What did Turkey’s president say?

At a news conference on Monday (16 May), Mr Erdogan said Turkey opposed the Finnish and the Swedish bids to join Nato.

He described Sweden as a "hatchery" for terrorist organisations.

The Turkish president said: "Neither of these countries have a clear, open attitude towards terrorist organisation.

“How can we trust them?"

Turkey accuses the two Nordic nations of harbouring members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group it views as a terrorist organisation, as well as followers of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish businessman, scholar and preacher who Ankara accuses of orchestrating a 2016 coup attempt.

Turkey demands that NATO nations should support its hard line on Kurdish groups.

President Erdogan held separate phone calls with the two countries’ leaders on Saturday (21 May), urging them to abandon financial and political support for “terrorist” groups threatening his country’s national security.

He told Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson that “Sweden’s political, financial and arms support to terrorist organisations must end.”

Turkey expected Sweden to “take concrete and serious steps” that show it shares Ankara’s concerns over terrorist groups.

What happened in the Turkey coup attempt in 2016?

In 2016 a coup was attempted in Turkey against state institutions including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Soldiers and tanks took to the streets and a number of explosions rang out in Ankara and Istanbul - with Turkish fighter jets dropping bombs on their own parliament.

241 people were killed and 2,194 others were injured.

The Turkish government blames the failed coup attempt on Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish preacher and businessman who has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999.

Gulen is the leader of a widespread and influential religious movement known as “Hizmet” (Service), which owns foundations, associations, media organisations and schools in Turkey and abroad.

Thousands of military officials, pilots, police officers, civil servants, academics and even teachers were sacked from their jobs for alleged links to the “terrorist” preacher and his movement.

Who are the Kurdistan Workers’ Party?

The Turkish president believes both Finland and Sweden have given protection and residence to members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, who he regards as “terrorists”.

The PKK is the major armed group mounting resistance to Turkey’s harsh treatment of its millions of Kurdish citizens.

The plight of the country’s Kurds, part of a large but stateless ethnic group in the region, has long been a bone of contention between Turkey and parts of the international community.

The PKK is listed by the U.S. and EU as a terrorist group, but Finland and Sweden have been reluctant to extradite members of the group to Turkey over human rights concerns.

Why is Turkey opposed to Finland and Sweden joining Nato?

Ankara’s ambassador to Stockholm has warned that Sweden must sever ties with a Syrian Kurdish militia or Turkey will continue to block its NATO bid.

The diplomat, Emre Yunt, told the Financial Times that severing ties with the People’s Protection Units (YPG) was “the most important” of Turkey’s demands.

The YPG is an armed Kurdish militia that has spearheaded the campaign against Islamic State in Syria, after the jihadist group seized large swaths of territory in 2014.

Swedish officials have previously claimed that Syrian Kurdish forces have played a crucial role in the fight against ISIS and are important for Syria’s stability.

But Mr Yunt, who has served as Turkey’s ambassador to Stockholm since 2017, said Ankara was angry that Sweden’s defence minister and other senior officials had held talks with YPG commanders in recent years.

Can Turkey veto Finland and Sweden’s Nato bid?

For Finland and Sweden to join NATO all 30 existing members must say yes, and so Sweden and Finland require Turkey’s support in their bid to join the military alliance.

President Erdogan has pledged to block applications from countries that have imposed sanctions on it.

Sweden suspended sales of arms to Turkey in 2019 after its Ankara’s military operation in Syria.

What have Finland and Sweden said?

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said he was surprised by Turkey’s stance, but added that his government was not interested in "bargaining" with Mr Erdogan.

Meanwhile on Monday, Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson explained the country’s decision to join NATO.

She said: "Nato will strengthen Sweden, Sweden will strengthen Nato.

“We are leaving one era behind us and entering a new one.”

She said Europe was now living in a dangerous new reality and a formal application could be handed in within several days, synchronised with Finland.

Nato has signalled its willingness to admit the two new members.

However, Ms Andersson stressed that Sweden did not want permanent NATO bases or nuclear weapons on its territory.

What countries are supporting the move?

Norway, Denmark and Iceland, all NATO members, immediately said they were ready to support Sweden and Finland by all means necessary if they came under attack.

The UK has already given security guarantees to Sweden and Finland to cover the transition period.

Monday’s announcement by Sweden came as NATO began one of its biggest exercises in the Baltic region, named “Hedgehog” and involving some 15,000 troops.

The drills in Estonia involve 10 countries, including Finland and Sweden.

It will be one of the largest military drills held in Estonia since 1991, and was arranged before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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