Turkey lifts blockade on Finnish and Swedish NATO bids – POLITICO

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MADRID — Turkey has lifted its objection to Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership applications, paving the way for the two countries to join the military alliance.

The three countries signed a memorandum of understanding in Madrid on Tuesday evening ahead of a summit of NATO leaders.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has led to a shift of public opinion in Northern Europe towards NATO, leading Helsinki and Stockholm to formally apply for membership in mid-May. But the Turkish leadership, concerned about the countries’ alleged support for Kurdish groups and arms embargoes, blocked the process.

On Tuesday, after weeks of talks, the three countries reached a deal, overcoming the biggest hurdle holding back NATO’s bids from Finland and Sweden. The progress is a blow to Russia’s stated ambition to reverse NATO’s growth through the war in Ukraine.

“In NATO, we have always shown that regardless of our differences, we can always sit down, reach agreement and resolve any issues,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at a news conference after the signing ceremony.

“Our joint memorandum underlines the commitment of Finland, Sweden and Türkiye to extend their full support against threats to each other’s security,” Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said in a statement. “As we become NATO allies, this commitment will be further strengthened.”

The deal has several components, the NATO chief said.

For starters, he said, Helsinki and Stockholm commit to “fully support Türkiye against threats to its national security.”

Stoltenberg named the PKK, a Kurdish militant group that Turkey, the US and the EU have classified as a terrorist organization. Both countries will work to “reduce PKK activities”, he added, and will “enter an agreement with Türkiye on extradition”.

The two Scandinavian countries will also have “no arms embargo” against Turkey, Stoltenberg noted.

Aside from the points Stoltenberg emphasized, the text of the memorandum revealed that Finland and Sweden had also agreed not to “provide support” to YPG, a Kurdish militia in Syria, nor to the movement affiliated with exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen. . The US has not placed the terrorist label on these entities.

And in a passage likely to cause some controversy in Finland and Sweden, the memorandum promises that the two countries will “promptly and thoroughly handle the pending deportation or extradition requests of terror suspects from Turkiye”, and clarifies that this must be done in accordance with the European treaties.

Following Ankara’s move, NATO leaders meeting in Madrid can now make a formal decision on Wednesday to invite Finland and Sweden to join the alliance.

After that, the process will be moved to each individual NATO country, where all 30 parliaments must ratify the enlargement. Because of those logistics, Stoltenberg declined to provide a specific timeline for the two countries formally joining the alliance.

Still, Stoltenberg expressed confidence that NATO would soon grow and praised the “advanced, well-developed” military capabilities both countries would add to the alliance.

Finland and Sweden are both strategically located for NATO. Finland shares a long border with Russia to the north, and Sweden is across the Baltic Sea from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — three countries pushing for more NATO support in the face of Russian threats.

“It will really bolster our presence in that part of the world,” Stoltenberg said.

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