The Turkish government opens the door for Finland to join NATO, but Turkey continues to oppose Sweden. The plan of Finland and Sweden to join the military association at the same time seems to have been scrapped. The Finns want to join as soon as possible and believe that Sweden should resolve the conflict with Turkey itself.
On May 17, 2022, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and former Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson stand side by side and announce that they want to join NATO together. A historic moment for both countries: for Sweden it means an end to 200 years of neutrality. Finland, in turn, is putting its big neighbor Russia to the test for the first time.
The country shares a 1300 km long border with Russia. Since the war in Ukraine, the Finns have strengthened their army and there are special trainings, also for women:
As far as Norwegian NATO boss Jens Stoltenberg is concerned, the two countries will get a fast track with the membership application. In addition, Sweden and Finland receive the support of the United States and Great Britain, among others, during the “grey period”: the time frame in which they show their colors and apply for NATO membership, but are not yet members. A period in which they are therefore not automatically protected by Article 5 of the NATO Charter: an attack on one is an attack on all NATO members.
It soon becomes clear that Turkey is opposed to Sweden. According to Turkey, Sweden is a hotbed of terrorists and has been harboring radical Kurds for decades. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has a list of persons he believes should be extradited to Turkey.
The Swedish government emphasizes that not politics, but the court is about deportations. In addition, a new terror law is being drafted. The preparations for this amendment to the law were started years ago, so in that sense it does not meet the Turkish demands. But the Swedish government is using the new terror law to show that it is doing everything it can to also tackle sympathizers of the PKK terror movement.
At the end of June 2022, Sweden, Finland and Turkey sign an agreement during the NATO summit in Madrid, with the countries appearing to reach an agreement. But Erdogan remains critical of Sweden. Turkey wants change in exchange for a ratification from Sweden, including access to the purchase of the American F-16 fighter jet.
The conflict between Sweden and Turkey then escalated in January, when Swedish-Danish right-wing extremist Rasmus Paludan set fire to a Quran in Stockholm, right in front of the Turkish embassy. Unrest is growing in Finland: the conflict between Sweden and Turkey could disrupt the Finnish application.
The hectic pace of the NATO application exposes the different interests at stake in Sweden and Finland. Finland has never before made a bid for NATO membership, for security reasons.
The country is very aware of the more than 1300 kilometers long border with Russia and is afraid to challenge the neighboring country. In Sweden, a NATO application was ruled out because neutrality is deeply entrenched.
Finland is also much better prepared for the NATO application. The country already prepared a ‘NATO emergency plan’ in the 1990s, after it joined the European Union. All Finnish political parties already agreed at that time that a NATO option should be adopted, an action plan whereby membership could be requested quickly in case of emergency. The Russian invasion of Ukraine was the alarm for Finland.
In Sweden, NATO accession is more controversial than in Finland. There, in particular, the Social Democrats, now the largest opposition party, are strongly divided. Instead of NATO membership, the party would prefer a military alliance with Finland.
But soon after the Russian invasion of Ukraine it became increasingly clear that Finland chose NATO instead of Sweden. “Damn Finland, now we have to join NATO too,” then Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde is said to have shouted.
In the end, the Swedish government had no choice but to follow Finland in its membership application, so as not to be left behind as the only country in Northern Europe.
According to Charly Pasternak-Salonius of the Finnish international research agency FIIA, it is essential that Finland now chooses its own path. Pasternak: “What if this process were delayed for years? What if the war in Ukraine ended and we were still not a member? Then our accession would be jeopardized.”
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