Blocking Finnish, Swedish bids shows NATO divergence and Turkey's unique role as a major power: experts
Published: May 30, 2022 10:29 PM
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talks following his cabinet meeting in Ankara, Turkey, Monday, May 17, 2021. Photo: VCG

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talks following his cabinet meeting in Ankara, Turkey, Monday, May 17, 2021. Photo: VCG

Before the scheduled phone calls with Russian and Ukraine leaders respectively on Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan re-stressed the objection to Sweden and Finland's bid to join NATO, as the Scandinavian countries support Kurdish militants whom Turkey considers terrorists. Chinese experts said Turkey plays a pivotal role in Sweden and Finland's NATO application as the country is eager to assert itself more as a major power.

In remarks released by Turkish media TRT World on Sunday, Erdogan said last week's talks on Sweden and Finland's NATO membership bids hosted in Ankara "did not happen at the desired level," and the two "have not taken the necessary steps regarding Turkey's demands."

Erdogan was referring to Finnish and Swedish's support of Kurdish militants that Turkey views as an extension of an outlawed Kurdish group that has led to an insurgency against Turkey since 1984, AP reported.

Erdogan told reporters that as long as he is the Turkish President, Ankara will not say "yes" to countries which "nuzzle terrorists to their bosom, feed terrorists on their laps," Reuters reported. 

Sweden and Finland formally applied to join NATO on May 18, but they need to be approved by the entire membership, including Turkey.   

"It is unfair for Turkey to be asked to meet Western demands while the West cannot meet Turkish demands," a Beijing-based international affairs expert told the Global Times on Monday in condition of anonymity. 

Erdogan called on Brussels in March to resume Turkey's EU accession talks, but the EU did not appear ready to lift the suspension button.

Turkey is also at odds with the US over the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, who has  

colluded with the US in the failed coup attempt in Turkey in 2016 and has lived in the US.

Turkey is not a country to be pushed around. Hosting talks with Russia and Ukraine shows Turkey's uniqueness in European and even global security, the expert said, adding that its presence is both a moment to showcase Turkey's unique status as a great power and a rare opportunity to make Turkish aspirations a reality.

Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Monday that Turkey may want to take its discord with the West over Scandinavian countries' NATO participation to clinch several deals, most likely over Finland and Sweden's withdrawal of support for the Kurdistan Workers' Party.

Since neither the UN nor NATO has agreed on standards on terrorism, Finland and Sweden could compromise with Turkey by passing some supplementary provisions, Wang said, noting that this is likely to be high on the agenda at the NATO summit in June in Madrid.

As for the ambitious Turkey, the New York Times calls it a "disruptive ally," while Bloomberg says Ankara is "undermining NATO's collective security."

In 2021, the Turkey was kicked out of the US F-35 program for acquiring the Russian S-400 air defense system. Experts said it meant that Turkey was cut off from the 5th generation fighter, affecting development for decades. And it does not look likely to include Turkey into the F-35 program as part of the deal in Sweden and Finland's NATO tickets this time

Experts say Turkey, which has long wanted to increase its international voice, may be turning East because of its long-standing grievances with the West.  

Turkey is not without leverage, Wang said, "given its critical geographical influence, it can keep US and the West at bay on Israeli-Palestinian issues and Iran's nuclear issue."

Turkey is interested in joining the cooperation mechanism related to Afghanistan. As a dialogue partner of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Turkey's interest in joining the BRICS mechanism is not a secret as well, Wang said.