Sweden and Finland continue talks on joining NATO on Monday, but hopes of a quick accession seem to fade due to a blockade by Turkey, which asks them to stop supporting Kurdish groups, which it considers terrorists.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is due to meet Turkish, Swedish and Finnish representatives in Brussels on Monday in hopes of unblocking talks ahead of an Alliance summit in Madrid next week.
“I think it is possible but it would be very difficult, it would imply that both sides show a real willingness to compromise,” says Paul Levin, director of the Institute of Turkish Studies at Stockholm University, during an interview with AFP.
Germany also dampened hopes of rapid accession. “(…) it would not be a disaster if we needed a few more weeks” to reach a compromise, a German executive source said on Monday.
Before Turkey blocked the process last month, Stockholm and Helsinki hoped for a speedy accession process to the Alliance, which needs the unanimity of its 30 members. Turkey has been a member of NATO since 1952.
But Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin acknowledged last week that there was a risk things could “freeze” if the conflict was not resolved before the Madrid summit.
“If we don’t resolve these issues before Madrid, there is a risk that the situation will freeze. We don’t know for how long, but it could take some time,” he said during a meeting of Nordic prime ministers.
Last Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for “concrete measures” through written commitments from Sweden and Finland.
Ankara accuses both countries — mainly Sweden — of supporting Kurdish groups such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which it considers terrorists.
It also calls for the lifting of arms export bans imposed by both countries following their military intervention in northern Syria in October 2019, a tightening of Swedish anti-terrorism legislation and the extradition of several individuals it considers terrorists.
Sweden was one of the first countries to classify the PKK as a terrorist organization in the 1980s. But like many Western countries, it backed the YPG, PKK allies in Syria who fought Islamic State jihadists alongside the United States.
Sweden has already made some gestures, among them affirming that joining NATO could change the position of its authority in charge of exporting arms on Turkey.
In recent years, Sweden has also tightened its anti-terrorism legislation and will further strengthen it from July 1, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said last week.
But with its sizeable Kurdish community of some 100,000 people, “Sweden stands out … for being, in general, more supportive of the Kurdish cause,” says Levin.
“From this point of view, Turkey may be right to focus on Sweden,” says the academic.
“There is a real conflict between Sweden’s point of view on the Kurdish question and Turkish demands on Sweden,” analyzes Li Bennich-Björkman, professor of political science at Uppsala University.
A dilemma that has manifested itself in recent weeks in the role played by the Swedish deputy of Iranian-Kurdish origin Amineh Kakabaveh, who opposes any concession to President Erdogan.
His voice is essential to secure support for Andersson’s minority Social Democratic government, given the precarious balance in the Swedish Parliament.
At the moment, “there is nothing more powerful in Swedish politics than Kakabaveh,” Elisabeth Braw, a specialist in Swedish defense affairs at the American Entreprise Institute, told AFP.
The deputy threatened on Wednesday not to support the government’s budget, demanding a clear promise to embargo arms exports to Turkey.
But with the Swedish parliament in recess, Kakabaveh’s chances of influencing government policy are diminishing.