Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan finally agreed on Monday (10 July) to green-light Sweden’s long-delayed bid to join NATO, just hours before the alliance’s two-day summit in Lithuania.
Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO in May 2022, but had their applications held up by Turkey’s demands that they both:
- 💪 Lift their ban on arms sales to Turkey (imposed after Turkey’s 2019 incursion against a Kurdish militia in Syria)
- 🚓 Crack down on Kurdish separatists within their countries, and
- ⚖️ Extradite dozens of people to Turkey, where they mostly face charges of supporting Kurdish separatist groups.
Finland cleared the hurdles in April but Sweden, with its occasional Quran-burning protests and large Kurdish diaspora, struggled to win Turkey over.
Then after Monday’s surprise meeting with his Swedish counterpart plus the NATO chief, Erdoğan finally relented in exchange for:
- ⚔️ More Swedish and NATO counterterrorism pledges (certain Kurdish separatists are listed as terrorists across the West), and
- 🇪🇺 Sweden’s help reinvigorating Turkey’s EU bid (this seems mostly symbolic, as these talks have been in permafrost for decades).
Intrigue’s take: This whole saga has given off more “will he? won’t he?” vibes than a season finale of The Bachelor.
But while Erdoğan has managed to extract some legit concessions along the way, his decision is not just transactional: after years of playing the middle to maximise Turkey’s advantage, Erdoğan has watched Russia stumble, and now seems to be siding pretty firmly with the West in response.
Also worth noting:
- Erdoğan has also recently backed Ukraine’s NATO bid, returned Ukrainian POWs, hosted President Zelensky, hosted the NATO chief twice, and offered Turkish warships to escort Ukrainian grain.
- Sweden stretches more than 1000km along the strategic Baltic Sea, and is a major manufacturer of artillery and military aircraft.
- A day after Turkey green-lit Sweden’s NATO accession, the US approved the long-delayed sale of $20B in F-16s to Turkey.