Turkey, Hungary put Finland on course to join NATO

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto hold a joint press conference after their meeting at the Presidential Complex in Ankara on March 17, 2023. — AFP

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday diplomatically ended months of delaying charges and asked parliament to immediately back Finland’s accession bid. NATO.

A simultaneous decision by fellow holdout Hungary to schedule Finland’s ratification vote for March 27 means the US-led defense alliance is likely to expand to 31 countries within months.

NATO’s expansion into the country, which shares a 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) border with Russia, would nearly double the length of the bloc’s current border with its Cold War-era foe.

But it also dashes the short-term hopes of fellow NATO aspirant Sweden – a Nordic power with which it has been at loggerheads. Turkey It has finally dropped its bid to join the bloc ahead of the coalition summit in July.

Helsinki and Stockholm ended a decades-long military standoff and decided to join the world’s most powerful defense alliance in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Their pleas were accepted at a NATO summit in June, signaling the West’s willingness to stand with Russia during Europe’s worst conflict since World War II.

But the bids still need to be ratified by all 30 parliaments of coalition members – a process that stalled after Turkey and Hungary took their turn.

Friday’s breakthrough comes after months of strained talks between Ankara and its Nordic neighbors that have repeatedly threatened to break down.

Erdogan told Finnish President Sauli Niinisto that Helsinki has shown a strong commitment to address Ankara’s security concerns.

“We have decided to start the protocol for Finland’s accession to NATO in our parliament,” Erdogan told reporters after the talks.

Erdogan added that he was “hopeful” that parliament would approve the request before Turkey’s crucial general election in May.

The current session of the Turkish Parliament is expected to end in mid-April.

Erdogan said that I hope that the decisions we will make will be beneficial for both our countries and the alliance.

‘Not complete without Sweden’

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Turkey’s decision, stressing the importance of Sweden joining “as soon as possible”.

“The most important thing is that both Finland and Sweden become full members of NATO quickly, not at the exact same time,” Stoltenberg said.

Erdogan has accused the Nordic neighbors of breaking the terms of a separate agreement reached in June 2022 under which Turkey agreed to accept bids.

Turkey has demanded the extradition of dozens of Kurds and other suspects accused of links to outlawed militants and a failed 2016 coup attempt.

Erdogan’s demands have become more urgent as he approaches elections in May in which he will need a strong turnout from his nationalist supporters to extend his two decades in power.

The Turkish leader is particularly angry with Sweden – a country with a large Kurdish population and a long history of conflict with Ankara.

Finland and Sweden initially opposed the idea of ​​breaking their bids.

But Swedish Prime Minister Alf Kristersen – who has prioritized NATO membership since taking office in October – admitted on Tuesday that the chances of Finland joining the bloc on its own had “increased”.

Finland’s president on Friday called Erdogan’s decision “very important for all of Finland.”

But he added: “Finland’s application is not complete without Sweden.”

Swedish regret

Sweden expressed disappointment at being excluded from this round of NATO enlargement.

“This is a development we didn’t want, but we were ready for it,” Foreign Minister Tobias Bluström told reporters in Stockholm.

The talks in Ankara put further pressure on the Hungarian parliament to end its own ratification delay.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and has had numerous conflicts with both NATO and the European Union.

Hungary’s parliament began debating the two NATO bids earlier this month.

But the timing of the vote was complicated by a separate dispute with Budapest over blocking EU funding and Hungary’s commitment to fighting corruption as well as the rule of law.

Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said Orban’s ruling Fidesz party “supports Finland’s NATO accession”.

“The parliamentary vote will take place on March 27,” Kovacs said in a Twitter message.

Oban parliamentary group leader Matt Kossis said the feds would “make a decision on the Swedish issue later.”

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