When Swedenwho had long remained neutral, requested the NATO membership With Finland, both hoped for a quick accession process. More than a year later, Finland is already in, but Sweden is still in the Alliance waiting room.
New additions must be approved by all existing members, and as NATO leaders meet at a summit in Vilnius, Sweden did not have the green light from two of them: Türkiye and Hungary.
A major hurdle was cleared Monday when the president of Turkey agreed to send NATO accession documents to the Turkish Parliament for approvalsomething he had refused to do for over a year.
This means that Sweden is about to become NATO’s 32nd member, although it has not yet crossed the finish line. Here’s what you need to know about Sweden’s tumultuous path to alliance membership.
goodbye to neutrality
for a country that has not fought a war in two centuries, the decision to join NATO was huge. Sweden refused to take sides during both world wars and throughout the cold war, adopting the neutrality as an essential part of its security policy and even of his National identity.
Although it changed its status to “non-aligned” after joining the European Union in 1995 and gradually increased its cooperation with NATO, Stockholm ruled out applying for membership until last year, with the public opinion firmly against.
As early as November 2021 – three months before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine – the then Defense Minister, Peter Hultqvistpromised that Sweden would never join NATO as long as its center-left Social Democrats were in power.
then the war started. When the Russian tanks crossed the Ukrainian border and the missiles hit kyiv and other cities, public opinion changed both in Finland and Sweden. Even Hultqvist and the Social Democrats backed down, and in May last year Sweden and Finland jointly applied for NATO membership.
Türkiye says not so fast
Most observers expected the applications from Sweden and Finland to be processed through the Fast Tracksince they already met the accession criteria and the war in Ukraine added urgency. Twenty-eight NATO countries quickly ratified the accession protocols.
But the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan I had a different idea. He said Turkey could not welcome the Nordic countries as NATO allies unless they cracked down on groups Ankara considers security threats, including the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Partyeither PKKwho has led a decades-long insurgency in Türkiye.
Sweden has welcomed more than a million refugees in recent decades, including tens of thousands of kurds from Türkiye, Iran and Iraq. Some of them sympathize with the PKK, designated a terrorist group by the European Union.
Seeking to address Erdogan’s concerns, Finland and Sweden signed an agreement with Turkey at the NATO summit in Madrid last year. They agreed to resume arms exports to Turkey suspended after a 2019 Turkish incursion into Kurdish areas in northern Syria, toughen anti-terror laws and step up efforts to prevent PKK activities in their countries.
When the Swedes elected a center-right government last Septembernegotiations with Turkey were expected to be a little easier because the previous Social Democratic government had been weighed down by its support for PKK-linked Kurdish militants in Syria.
But things got complicated in January, when pro-Kurdish activists briefly hung a doll of Erdogan from a lamppost in front of Stockholm City Hall. Shortly after, a Danish anti-Islam activist burned the Koran in front of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm.
If the goal was to stall Sweden’s NATO bid by angering Turkey, the protests had the desired effect: Ankara froze NATO talks with Swedenwhile allowing the entry of Finland in April. The Conservative Prime Minister’s government ulf kristersson he spent months trying to repair the damage.
Just when relations seemed to be on the mend, an Iraqi refugee starred last month in another protest with burning Korans outside a Stockholm mosque, dashing hopes that Turkey would unblock Sweden’s accession before the NATO summit in Vilnius.
Who is behind the protests?
The protests against Erdogan have brought together Pro-Kurdish and far-left protesters in Sweden. Some participants have waved flags of the PKK.
Meanwhile, the burning of the Koran was carried out by a far-right activist from Denmark and a Christian refugee from Iraq. They would not have attracted much attention were it not for the NATO issue, but because Ankara was closely following events in Sweden, the protests made headlines in Turkey and other Muslim countries, where leaders criticized Sweden for allowing them. This sparked a debate in Sweden about whether the burning of the Koran can be considered hate speech, which is illegal, or a lawful expression of opinion about a world religion.
The Swedish authorities try to assure Turkey that Sweden is not an Islamophobic nation.emphasizing that the government does not approve the burning of Korans but cannot prevent them, alleging the freedom of expression. The government’s strong condemnations of the protests have sparked a backlash in the country, with critics accusing Kristersson of doing everything he can to placate Turkey.
The protests have also sparked suspicions of Russian interference. As soon as Sweden launched its membership bid, the country’s security service warned that Moscow might increase its influence activities during the application process. However, no evidence of Russian ties to the protesters has emerged.
What else does Türkiye want?
Türkiye’s delay in the Swedish NATO candidacy irritated USA and other allies. Some analysts suggested that Turkey was using its influence to pressure the United States into supplying it with upgraded F-16 fighter jets. Although Turkish and US officials have claimed that Sweden’s accession process and the improvement of F-16s are not related, the president Joe Biden implicitly linked the two issues in a phone call to Erdogan in May.
“I spoke to Erdogan and he still wants to work on something about the F-16s. I told him that we want an agreement with Sweden. So we’re going to get it,” Biden said.
Just before leaving for the NATO summit in Vilnius on Monday, Erdogan presented another demand. He said that European countries should reopen talksfrozen for a long time, to allow the entry of Türkiye in the European Union. “When you pave the way for Turkey, we will pave the way for Sweden, as we did for Finland,” she said.
After Erdogan met separately with kristersson and with the President of the Council of the EU, Charles-MichelIn Vilnius, the NATO Secretary General announced a breakthrough: Erdogan was ready to send Sweden’s accession protocol to the Turkish Parliament in exchange for increased security cooperation and Swedish support to revive Turkey’s quest for EU membership.
Although hailing the deal as a “big step on the way” to NATO membership, Kristersson stopped short of calling NATO membership complete, saying it was unclear when the Turkish parliament would make its decision.
What about Hungary?
Unlike Turkey, Hungary has not given a reason why it has not yet ratified Sweden’s membership. in NATO. hungary kept close economic and diplomatic ties with Russia Before the war. Since it started, Prime Minister Victor Orbán He has refused to back Ukraine with weapons and has come out against European Union sanctions on Moscow.
During a visit to Vienna last week, Orban denied that Hungary was delaying Sweden’s membership bid.
“We support the accession of Sweden, but the Hungarian Parliament has not yet ratified the decision”, said. “We are in permanent contact with the NATO Secretary General and with the Turks. So if we have something to do, we will act.”
Many analysts believe that Orban is waiting for Erdogan’s next move and that Hungary will approve Sweden’s accession if Turkey seems likely to do the same. This is what happened with the accession of Finland.
(With information from AP)
Why did Erdogan change his mind about Sweden joining NATO?
France and Germany announced the shipment of more military aid to Ukraine: long-range missiles and Patriot launchers
NATO Secretary General said Ukraine will be able to join the alliance “when the conditions are met”