Sweden-Finland: PKK bargain to continue until NATO summit

Turkey’s FM Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (on the left) with his US counterpart Anthony Blinken on May 18. (Photo: Foreign Ministry of Turkey)

The crisis sparked by Sweden and Finland’s applications for NATO membership amid the Ukraine war, as well as Turkey’s veto manoeuvre, has entered a new phase. The diplomatic relations have shifted their focus to the US.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu met with his US counterpart, Antony Blinken, in New York on May 18. Çavuşoğlu held a tripartite meeting with his Swedish and Finnish counterparts at the informal NATO conference in Berlin last week, but there was no result.

The next day, US President Joe Biden hosted Finnish President Sauli Niinstö and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson together at the White House. He said the two countries would strengthen NATO with their “strong democracies” rather than their military capabilities. He said that even if Turkey is to block their membership, the United States stood by them against Russia. Upon the question, he said that he has no plans to discuss this issue with President Tayyip Erdogan or to go to Turkey at the moment.

Arm wrestling has begun

Biden’s determination and strict tone stemmed from Erdoğan’s Chief Advisor for Security and Foreign Policy (and spokesman) İbrahim Kalın’s calls made a day before. The chief advisor called Sweden, Finland, England and Germany, as well as the USA, and said that Ankara will not grant NATO visas to Stockholm and Helsinki under the current conditions unless they change their PKK-supportive stance, in other words, it will block it.

The detail here is the relationship established through the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – the USA has made the PKK form the force to avoid appearing to help PKK, which they officially deem terrorists-. As the Minister of National Defense Hulusi Akar said the USA and EU countries have been “undermining Turkey’s intelligence”.

It is necessary to note the slight divergence in the attitudes of Sweden and Finland in the last two days. While Finland declares that they are ready to talk about all Turkey’s concerns and reconcile, Sweden does not step back but delegates the responsibility to the White House thinking that the USA have a force on Turkey to lift its veto.

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, on the other hand, considers the NATO membership decision of his two western neighbours a threat to Moscow. A multi-sided arm wrestling has begun.

Will Turkey veto?

Meanwhile, the first support within NATO (and the EU) for Turkey in imposing conditions for its own national interest came from Croatian President Zoran Milanovic. He found Turkey’s maneuvres justified and said that he could use his veto right to make progress on the ethnic Croats in Bosnia. In NATO, where decisions are taken unanimously, especially small countries can find an opportunity to ask for concessions either from these countries or from countries such as the USA, Germany, and France by taking advantage of Sweden and Finland knocking their door for vote.

One of the frequently asked questions is whether Turkey will use its veto right. All indications in Ankara are that Turkey will approve if a certain consensus is reached, especially if Sweden softens its stance on the PKK and its derivatives. The attitude of the USA will be decisive in this subject.

Turkey’s veto on the accession of Sweden and Finland does not mean the end of NATO or the end of Turkey’s NATO membership. For example, Greece vetoed Macedonia’s NATO membership in 2008, and the solution was found in changing the country’s name to North Macedonia.

Eyes on NATO Summit

However, this time, as Russia is advancing in Ukraine, there is a dynamic process with time pressure and the US wants the membership to be approved as soon as possible. While the critical importance of Russia is evident, neither Turkey can give up on NATO nor the USA and other NATO countries can sacrifice Turkey in the middle of the Black Sea, Mediterranean, Basra and Caspian quadrangles.

Therefore, negotiations and diplomatic negotiations will continue. According to diplomatic sources in Ankara, the NATO Summit to be held in Madrid on 28-29 June can be seen as a threshold for all parties.

Until then, if a compromise is reached and Turkey sees at least some concrete steps, for example, if the two countries lift the arms embargo on Turkey, -where they will promise common defence-, and at least provide the extradition of some of the names involved in armed incidents, the approval may come. Thus, the dark clouds over the NATO Spain Summit, where the new strategy will come into effect, will disperse.

And, of course, the shadows over the Turkish economy, where the problems are increasing day by day will also be lifted.

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