Turkey formally agrees to Finland’s NATO membership, a setback for Russia

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto (L) hold a joint news conference after their meeting March 17, 2023 at the Presidential Complex in Ankara.

Adam Altan | AFP | Getty Images

Turkey’s parliament on Thursday voted unanimously to officially approve Finland’s NATO membership, marking a historic step for the traditionally non-aligned Nordic country, which shares an 830-mile border with Russia.

The vote follows a months-long saga in which Turkey demanded certain concessions from Finland and its neighbor Sweden, both of which applied to NATO in May 2022 following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. NATO accession requires the unanimous consent of all member states. Ankara’s vote late Thursday marked Finland’s final hurdle in the accession process.

Turkey and Hungary remained the last holdouts standing in the way of the Nordic countries joining the 74-year-old alliance. Ankara has yet to approve Sweden’s bid, while Hungary – whose Prime Minister Viktor Orban is on friendly terms with Russian leader Vladimir Putin – has agreed to Finland’s but not Sweden’s.

Turkey joined NATO in 1952 and has the second largest military in the alliance after the United States.

As of 2022, NATO has expanded to include three former Soviet countries and all former Warsaw Pact countries.

Bryn Bache | CNBC

Turkey’s hostility towards Sweden focuses mainly on Sweden’s support for Kurdish groups that Ankara considers terrorists or are allied with militants, and arms embargoes that both Sweden and Finland, along with other EU countries, have imposed on Turkey because they attack Kurdish militias in Syria.

Finland lifted its nearly three-year arms embargo on Turkey in January to improve relations between the two countries. But the relationship between Stockholm and Ankara remains in limbo.

“Turkey both confirm that we have done what we promised, but they also say that they want things that we cannot or do not want to give them,” Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said in early January. Nevertheless, he was confident that Turkey would agree to his country’s NATO application.

Both Sweden and Finland have maintained non-aligned positions throughout the more than seven decades since NATO’s founding, and have been wary of provoking Moscow, which has frequently described the alliance as an existential threat. But the countries have been official NATO partners since 1994 and take part in NATO missions and exercises.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kremlin officials have warned of “consequences” if the two Nordic states join the alliance, although they haven’t specified what those might be.

In early 2022, Putin cited Ukraine’s desire to join NATO as a premise for his decision to invade the country, believing the organization’s expansion along Russia’s borders was unacceptable.

Ironically, it was its invasion of Ukraine that prompted Finland and Sweden to bid to join the alliance, with the former’s upcoming membership adding another 830 miles of NATO territory along Russia’s border.

A few months before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in October 2021, Finnish popular support for joining the alliance stood at 24%, according to local polls. By November 2022, it had risen to 78%.

Source : www.cnbc.com

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