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NATO

Hopes fade for Sweden’s swift Nato accession

Finland and Sweden are to discuss their stalled Nato bids with Turkey in Brussels on Monday, but hopes are fading they will be able resolve their dispute before an alliance summit next week, experts say.

Hopes fade for Sweden's swift Nato accession
File photo of a meeting at the Nato headquarters in Brussels. Photo: François Walschaerts/AFP

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was to meet with representatives from the three countries to try to make progress on the Nordic nations’ membership applications, which have been blocked by Turkey.

“I think it is possible but it would be very difficult,” Paul Levin, director of the Institute for Turkey Studies at Stockholm University, told AFP, adding it would require both parties to compromise.

Nato and the two Nordic countries had expected the application process to be quick. But Turkey’s objections caught them all off-guard, at a time when Nato is keen to display a unified front against Russia.

Turkey has accused Finland and Sweden of providing a safe haven for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a “terrorist” group by Turkey and its Western allies.

Turkey has also demanded they lift their weapons freezes on Turkey. Any Nato membership deal must be unanimously approved by all 30 members of the alliance, and fears are now mounting that Turkey could delay the Nordic countries’ bids indefinitely.

Kurdish quandary

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin recently expressed fears that unless the issues are resolved “before Madrid, there is a risk that the situation will freeze”.

On Monday, Germany dampened hopes of a deal being reached that quickly.

“I think this is about expectations management and to place this in its historical context,” said a high-ranking German government source, while stressing a solution was still in sight.

“It would not be a catastrophe if we need a few more weeks,” the source said. “What is crucial is that in our view there are no insurmountable difficulties” between Sweden, Finland and Turkey.

Turkey’s anger has primarily been directed at Sweden.

“Sweden does view the PKK as a terrorist organisation and has done so since 1984”, Levin said, adding that it was “arguably the first country apart from Turkey” to do so.

“So in that sense Sweden does not really stand out” from other European countries.

However, Sweden has expressed support for the YPG, a US-backed Syrian Kurdish group, and its political arm, the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

Turkey views the YPG, which fought against the Islamic State group in Syria with Western support, as the PKK’s Syria offshoot.

In a bid to ease Turkey’s concerns, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson has stressed that Sweden has been beefing up its anti-terror laws in recent years, with new stricter legislation coming into force on July 1.

Sweden has also said that its independent weapons export agency would be prepared to review its policy once the country was a Nato member. Levin noted that one area where Sweden does stand out in Europe is that it is “generally more sympathetic to the broader Kurdish cause”.

The Scandinavian country is home to around 100,000 Kurds, which Levin described as “influential” and “successful in mobilising”.

“In that sense, maybe Turkey is right to put the spotlight on Sweden”, Levin said.

Sweden’s hands tied

Sweden’s government is also being squeezed on the home front, with its hands tied by an independent MP with Kurdish roots.

Amineh Kakabaveh is a former Left Party member of Iranian-Kurdish origin sitting in parliament as an independent since 2019.

In November, she provided the deciding vote to bring the Social Democrats into power — in exchange for deeper cooperation with the PYD.

Kakabaveh has threatened to vote against the government’s budget proposal this week if Sweden agrees to sell arms to Turkey.

The Swedish government’s two sets of negotiations with Kakabaveh and Turkey “are very difficult to reconcile”, Levin noted. If not resolved before then, Sweden’s parliamentary elections in September could end the deadlock with Turkey.

Kakabaveh is not expected to be re-elected to parliament, which would enable the government to negotiate more freely with Turkey.

“It really looks like the Swedish government is trying to step away from this agreement with Kakabaveh in order to be able to have this discussion with Turkey,” Levin said.

At the same time, an early election in Turkey has also sailed up as a possibility, which could “change things up and make it possible to come to some kind of solution”, he noted.

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NATO

US Senate ratifies Sweden’s entry to Nato

The US Senate ratified the entry of Sweden and Finland into Nato Wednesday, strongly backing the expansion of the transatlantic alliance in the face of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

US Senate ratifies Sweden's entry to Nato

The Senate voted 95 to 1 in favour of the two Nordic countries’ accession, making the United States the 23rd of the 30 Nato countries to formally endorse it so far, after Italy approved it earlier Wednesday and France on Tuesday. President Joe Biden hailed the Senate’s quick ratification process — the fastest since 1981.

“This historic vote sends an important signal of the sustained, bipartisan US commitment to Nato, and to ensuring our Alliance is prepared to meet the
challenges of today and tomorrow,” Biden said in a statement.

The sole opponent was Republican Josh Hawley, who agreed that the United States should focus on protecting its homeland, but that Washington should concentrate on the challenge from China rather than Europe.

One senator, Republican Rand Paul, voted “present” rather than endorsing or opposing the motion. Senate leader Chuck Schumer said it was a signal of Western unity after Moscow launched a war on Ukraine on February 24.

“This is important substantively and as a signal to Russia: they cannot intimidate America or Europe,” Schumer said. “Putin has tried to use his war in Ukraine to divide the West. Instead, today’s vote shows our alliance is stronger than ever.” 

All 30 members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation must agree if Finland and Sweden, officially non-aligned but longtime adjunct partners of
the alliance, are admitted. According to a Nato list, seven member countries have yet to formally agree to the new double-entry: the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Turkey.

Only Turkey has raised a challenge, demanding certain concessions from Finland and Sweden to back their memberships.

Ankara has demanded the extradition of dozens of government opponents it labels “terrorists” from both countries in exchange for its support.

Turkey said on July 21 that a special committee would meet Finnish and Swedish officials in August to assess if the two nations are complying with
its conditions.

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