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Finland floats idea of ​​joining NATO without Sweden amid Turkish standoff


BRUSSELS — Finland still hopes to join NATO alongside neighbor Sweden but may be forced to reconsider whether Stockholm’s bid is blocked, Finland’s foreign minister said on Tuesday.

“We have to be ready to reassess the situation. Has something happened that would prevent Sweden’s candidacy from progressing in the long term? Minister Pekka Haavisto told Finnish broadcaster YLE.

A day earlier, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that recent protests in Stockholm by an anti-Islam activist and another from pro-Kurdish groups could jeopardize Sweden’s candidacy, and diplomats from the NATO are less and less convinced that the two countries will be accommodated quickly.

Finland and Sweden applied to join the 30-member military alliance following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, formally submitting their applications together last spring and generally advancing in tandem. Their membership would double NATO’s land border with Russia and reshape European security.

But their candidacy was delayed, mainly by objections from Turkey, which blocked early accession talks. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has criticized Sweden for granting asylum to members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. But Turkey then struck a deal so things could move forward. Now he is again threatening to derail – or at least significantly delay – the process, undermining NATO unity amid Russia’s war on Ukraine.

For non-NATO countries to join the alliance, the consent of member countries is needed, and Hungary and Turkey are the only countries that have not ratified the joint offers. Hungary signaled it would, but Turkey did not, dampening hopes that the two countries could be welcomed as members at the 2023 NATO summit in July.

Although this is the first time that Finland has appeared to open the door to proceedings without Sweden, Haavisto’s remark does not appear to signal an official change of position – at least not yet.

After his comment made headlines, including in Sweden, Haavisto told Finnish reporters he had been ‘imprecise’ and reiterated his hope that the countries would join NATO together, according to Finnish newspaper Helsingin. Sanomat.

Senior NATO officials, including Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, have urged Turkey to move forward, arguing that the division and delay are a gift for Russian President Vladimir Putin and a danger to the alliance. .

“It’s time to welcome Finland and Sweden as NATO members,” Stoltenberg said at a press conference with Turkey’s foreign minister in the fall. Ratification, he added, is essential to avoid “misunderstandings or miscalculations in Moscow”.

Despite pleas from its allies, Turkey continued to pressure Sweden. And recent protests, which included the burning of a Quran, appear to have deepened the impasse.

Erdogan criticized Swedish authorities on Monday for allowing the protest. “It is clear that those who have caused such disgrace in front of our country’s embassy can no longer expect any benevolence from us regarding their applications for NATO membership,” he said on Monday.

Erdogan also criticized Stockholm for allowing protesters at a separate demonstration to wave the flags of Kurdish groups, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which Turkey and others consider a terrorist group.

“You have terrorist organizations roaming your streets and avenues, and then you expect us to support them to join NATO? There is no such thing. Don’t expect such support from us,” he said.

Swedish officials have defended the public’s right to protest.

Zeynep Karatas in Istanbul contributed to this report.

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