Foreign ministers from Finland, Sweden and Turkey were to hold talks in Berlin on Saturday to resolve disagreements over Finnish and Swedish plans to join Nato, as the alliance meets against the backdrop of the Ukraine war.
The Nordic states are gearing up to apply for membership of the 30-strong transatlantic alliance in response to what they see as a fundamentally altered security situation due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. That has drawn threats of retaliation from Moscow, along with objections from Nato member Turkey.
Turkey's foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters as he arrived in Berlin that it was "unacceptable and outrageous" that prospective new Nato members gave support to the PKK Kurdish militant group, potentially complicating the alliance's enlargement.
“The problem is that these two countries are openly supporting and engaging with [militant Kurdistan Workers Party PKK] and YPG. These are terrorist organisations that have been attacking our troops every day,” Mr Cavusoglu said, adding he would hold talks with his Swedish and Finnish counterparts on Saturday evening.
“A big majority of the Turkish people are against the membership of those countries ... and are asking us to block this membership,” he said.
Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavesto said he was confident a solution would be found. Swedish foreign minister Ann Linde told Swedish news agency TT she would seek to sort out any misunderstandings.
Swift accession procedure
Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg has promised both Nordic countries a warm welcome and a swift accession procedure, but Turkey on Friday unexpectedly threw a spanner in the works.
Mr Stoltenberg, who cannot take part in the Berlin meeting as he has tested positive for Covid-19, spoke with several of the ministers on the phone before the talks began, among them US secretary of state Antony Blinken and the foreign ministers of Turkey, Finland and Sweden.
Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday he could not support the Nordic countries' plans given they were "home to many terrorist organisations", but his spokesperson told Reuters on Saturday that Turkey had not shut the door.
Allies will also explore security guarantees for Finland and Sweden for the duration of a ratification period that could take as long as a year, during which the Nordic countries are not yet protected by Nato’s article 5 which guarantees that an attack on one ally is an attack on all.
They will also assess the military situation on the ground and their aid to the Ukraine military, and will discuss a first draft of Nato’s new strategic concept, its basic military doctrine, which is set to be agreed at a leaders summit in Madrid at the end of June.
"I think [Russian] President Vladimir Putin needs to take a look at himself in the mirror. You reap what you sow," Canadian foreign minister Melanie Joly said, adding she was confident a consensus would be reached for Finland and Sweden to join the alliance.
Any country seeking to join the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance needs the unanimous support of the members of the military alliance. The United States and other member states have been trying to clarify Ankara's position.
Sweden and its closest military partner, Finland, have until now remained outside Nato, founded in 1949 to counter the Soviet Union in the Cold War. The two countries are wary of antagonising their large neighbour, but their security concerns have increased since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th last.
Stockholm is widely expected to follow Helsinki's lead and could apply for entry to the 30-nation military alliance as early as Monday.
Mr Erdogan's spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said the PKK – designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the US and the European Union – was fund-raising and recruiting in Europe, and that its presence is "strong and open and acknowledged" in Sweden in particular.
“What needs to be done is clear: they have to stop allowing PKK outlets, activities, organisations, individuals and other types of presence to...exist in those countries,” Mr Kalin said.
Turkey, the second-largest military in Nato, has officially supported enlargement since it joined the US-led alliance 70 years ago.
US-based Islamic cleric
For years it has criticised Sweden and other European countries for their handling of organisations deemed terrorists by Turkey, including the followers of US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Turkey has criticised Russia’s invasion, helped arm Ukraine – which is not in Nato – and tried to facilitate talks between the sides, but opposes sanctions on Moscow. It wants Nato “to address the concerns of all members, not just some”, Mr Kalin said.
Asked whether Turkey risked being too transactional at a time of war, and when Finnish and Swedish public opinion favours Nato membership, he said: “One hundred percent of our population is very upset with the PKK and FETO [Gulenist] presence in Europe.”
“If they [Finland and Sweden] have a public concerned about their own national security, we have a public that is equally concerned about our own security,” he said. “We have to see this from a mutual point of view.”
Mr Kalin said Russia’s sharp criticism of Finland and Sweden over their plans regarding Nato was not a factor in Turkey’s position. – Reuters