“I think we’re going to be okay” was U.S. President Joe Biden’s response to questions regarding Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s fierce remarks made about the prospect of Finland and Sweden’s entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
President Biden seemingly dismissed the Turkish president’s Monday remarks before a Thursday White House meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto.
Erdoğan labeled the nordic countries as “terror supporters” due to the protection and refuge given by both countries to Kurdish groups such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which the Turkish government view as security threats.
Both countries have additionally refused to extradite members of the group to Turkey over human rights concerns per the Turkish government’s record of repression of the country’s Kurdish population; Erdoğan stated Monday that he is against the entry of both nations into the military alliance.
“Neither of these countries have a clear, open attitude towards terrorist organisations,” Erdogan said in the Monday news conference. “How can we trust them?”
Following Sweden and Finland’s submission of their respective official applications to join NATO on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken met with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in New York on Thursday in an effort to clarify Turkey’s position.
In order for new NATO members to be accepted, all 30 existing members have to agree. Erdoğan’s objections to Finnish and Swedish acceptance therefore places Turkey in a powerful position as NATO’s single Middle Eastern member nation stands as the only NATO member to block the expansion of the alliance.
A historic shift in defense and foreign policy for both nations, Finland and Sweden have abandoned their long history of non-alignment following the Russian invasion of Ukraine which began on February 24.
Moscow warned Finland it could be cut off from Russian gas supplies following their announcement to join NATO last week.
The Russian foreign ministry also warned it would take retaliatory actions against Helsinki. “Russia will be forced to take retaliatory steps, both of a military-technical and other nature, in order to stop threats to its national security arising,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on May 13.
Moscow seems to be focused primarily on the possibility of NATO infrastructure being moved close to its border following the ascension of Finland into the northern alliance.
Press Secretary for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov stated that Finland took “unfriendly steps” against Russia reports the Independent. “Everything will depend on how this process of Nato expansion plays out, the extent to which military infrastructure moves closer to our borders,” Peskov stated.
Turkey’s grievances with Finland and Sweden are longstanding, and in keeping with Erdoğan’s recent rhetoric touching on a multitude of contentions between Turkey and the nordic countries.
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The Turkish president has also raised the issue of arms sale restrictions imposed by Finland and Sweden over 2019 military operations taken against former US allied Kurdish fighters in Syria. The arms restrictions were imposed in partnership with fellow European Union member nations.
In addition to the PKK, tensions have risen over the nordic countries hosting of followers connected to the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. A former ally of Erdoğan, the followers comprise an educational and political movement which the Turkish president broke off from as they grew in power. Erdoğan accuses the group of committing a 2016 failed coup against him.
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