Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reversed his position and agreed to support Sweden’s bid to join NATO after blocking the move for a year due to Turkish security concerns. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced the breakthrough after talks with Erdogan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson in Vilnius, Lithuania. Stoltenberg stated that Erdogan has agreed to forward Sweden’s membership bid to Turkey’s parliament, marking a historic day for the alliance.
NATO membership requires the approval of all member countries, and Turkey had been holding up Sweden’s accession since last year, accusing Sweden of harboring Kurdish activists whom Turkey considers terrorists. Tensions were further strained by demonstrations in Stockholm, including acts by anti-Islam activists burning the Quran.
In a joint statement issued after the talks, Turkey and Sweden expressed their commitment to enhancing counterterrorism coordination and boosting trade ties. However, Erdogan added a new condition, demanding that the European Union revive Turkey’s stalled membership bid as a prerequisite for Sweden joining NATO. This unexpected announcement adds uncertainty to Sweden’s NATO aspirations. It was the first time Erdogan explicitly linked Turkey’s EU membership ambitions with Sweden’s NATO membership efforts.
US President Joe Biden praised Erdogan’s commitment to Sweden’s NATO bid and expressed readiness to work with Turkey on defense and deterrence in the Euro-Atlantic area. Finland’s Foreign Minister, Elina Valtonen, also highlighted the importance of Sweden’s NATO membership for regional security, noting that Finland had been advocating for Sweden’s ratification alongside its own membership.
The developments regarding Sweden’s NATO bid come at a time of heightened concerns about Russian aggression in northern Europe following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. The outcome of Turkey’s decision to support Sweden’s accession will have significant implications for both countries and the broader NATO alliance.