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Turkey’s Erdogan finally approves Finland’s NATO bid, but not Sweden’s

BRUSSELS – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday gave the green light to Finland’s application for NATO membership, removing a significant hurdle to the Nordic nation’s bid to join the alliance, but leaving its neighbor, Sweden, on the sidelines for now.

“We have decided to start the ratification process in our parliament for Finland’s accession,” Erdogan told a press conference in the Turkish capital, Ankara, adding that he wanted the vote to go through. take place before the mid-May elections.

Mr. Erdogan spoke after concluding a meeting with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto. The leaders had both telegraphed that the announcement was imminent, with Mr Erdogan saying this week that Turkey would “keep our promise”.

For Finland, joining NATO after decades of military non-alignment would be a major shift in the balance of power in the region between the Western military alliance and Russia. It would also be a significant diplomatic and strategic defeat for Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, who made it clear before invading Ukraine last year that his intention was to block NATO’s expansion into the EU. East. But instead, his invasion convinced Finnish and Swedish leaders that there was no real guarantee of security for them outside of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Finland has an 830-mile border with Russia, the longest in Europe, and a history of resisting Moscow’s hegemony. Favoring autonomy, Finland did not reduce its army after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and it dragged a more reluctant Sweden to apply together for NATO 10 months ago.

But Mr Erdogan has blocked Sweden’s bid, saying the country has become a haven for Kurdish separatists and other dissidents he sees as terrorists. So far Stockholm’s efforts to appease him, including a new terrorism law, have failed.

He has intermittently insisted on extraditing more than 120 people currently in Sweden, as he did again on Friday. Talks will continue in the hope that Turkey will finally approve Sweden’s membership application after the Turkish elections but before the NATO summit in Lithuania in mid-July.

Mr Erdogan’s decision clears the way for the Turkish parliament to ratify Finland’s membership of the alliance, which requires the unanimous approval of the bloc’s 30 nations. Hungary is the only other country whose parliament has not ratified the candidacies of Finland or Sweden. Its leader, Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has warm relations with Mr. Putin, hesitated on the date of the vote of the Hungarian Parliament. But he still insists that Hungary has no objection to either Nordic country joining.

Some Hungarian lawmakers suggested on Friday they could ratify Finland’s NATO bid on March 27, but following Turkey, they would withhold a vote on Sweden.

With elections in Finland on April 2, the country’s current government has decided to pass all necessary laws to join NATO in order to avoid any period of uncertainty while a new government is formed. All that remains is to obtain the approval of the Turkish and Hungarian parliaments.

The two Nordic nations had pledged to enter the alliance “hand in hand”. Sweden, with only a short maritime border, is less exposed to Russia, but Sweden and Finland are closely aligned militarily. After declaring they would seek NATO membership, the two countries were assured of military aid from the United States and Britain in the event of Russian aggression before joining the alliance.

On Friday, Mr Niinisto thanked Mr Erdogan for the decision to ratify, but told the press conference that Finland’s membership “is not complete without Sweden”. The two countries applied together. But for Finland to refuse to join NATO until Sweden is also approved would be politically difficult and strategically risky, and Swedish leaders have made it clear that they will continue to pursue membership on their own.

The Turkish leader faces a tough battle for re-election in mid-May with a struggling economy and high inflation, as well as criticism over his government’s handling of the recent devastating earthquake. The campaign against Kurdish separatism and terrorism is popular politics in Turkey and plays well among opposition voters as well. And many Turks love the attention and influence that Mr. Erdogan’s unpredictability often provides.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, welcomed Mr. Erdogan’s announcement. “It will strengthen Finland’s security, it will strengthen Sweden’s security and it will strengthen NATO’s security,” he said during a visit to Norway. “The most important thing is that Finland and Sweden quickly become full members of NATO, not that they join at exactly the same time.” He stressed that the two countries continue to integrate into NATO and participate in NATO talks and exercises.

Mr. Orban of Hungary has signaled his support for the two countries’ NATO bids, but his government has been slow on the issue.

Hungary has exercised its veto within the European Union over sanctions against Russia in an attempt to secure concessions on other issues, and analysts say Mr Orban appears to be doing the same on offers from Finland and Sweden. Mr Orban is also known to be annoyed by criticism of Hungary within the European Union from Sweden and Finland.

In Finland, Prime Minister Sanna Marin welcomed the news and said in a Twitter message that “Finland will do its utmost to ensure that Sweden also becomes a member of NATO as soon as possible. Together we are stronger.”

Chairman of the Finnish Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Jussi Halla-aho, said: “I don’t see it as very significant for Finland’s security if Sweden joins NATO later. Finland in NATO represents the “preventive and deterrent effect”, he told Finnish state broadcaster Yle. “It’s much better for Sweden in terms of security that Finland is a member of NATO.”

Finland, he said, kept the Swedes informed every step of the way. “It can be psychologically difficult for them to have to react to Finland’s action,” he said. “But these are psychological issues and not related to real issues.”

Gulsin Harman And Ben Hubbard contributed to reporting from Istanbul, Johanna Lemola from Helsinki and Anouchka Patil from New York.

nytimes Gt

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