Turkey has said it will not approve Sweden and Finland joining it as Nato members, hours after Stockholm followed Helsinki in a historic security Nordic policy shift by formally confirming it intended to apply for membership of the alliance.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan said diplomatic delegations from the two countries, which have reversed decades of military non-alignment in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, should not even bother coming to Ankara to discuss the move.
“We will not say ‘yes’ to those [countries] that apply sanctions to Turkey to join the security organisation Nato,” Mr Erdogan said. “They say they will come to Turkey on Monday. Will they come to persuade us? Excuse us, but they shouldn’t bother.”
The Turkish president's comments came as Sweden's prime minister, Magdalena Andersson, said "a broad majority" in parliament backed Nato membership, "the best thing for the security of Sweden" – drawing a warning from Moscow.
Sweden was “leaving one era behind us and entering a new one”, she said. The Finnish government confirmed its intention to join Nato on Sunday, shortly before Andersson’s ruling Social Democrats abandoned 73 years of opposition to the idea.
Ms Andersson said Sweden's Nato ambassador would formally hand over Stockholm's application to the alliance headquarters in Brussels "within the next few days" and the membership request would be submitted simultaneously with Finland's.
Ankara first raised objections to Finnish and Swedish membership on Friday, citing their history of hosting members of Kurdish militant groups and Sweden’s suspension of arms sales to Turkey since 2019 over Ankara’s military operation in Syria.
The justice ministry said on Monday that over the past five years the two countries had failed to respond positively to extradition requests for 33 people Turkey says are linked to groups it deems terrorist, namely the PKK and followers of Fethullah Gulen.
“Neither of these countries have a clear, open attitude towards terrorist organisations,” Mr Erdogan told a news conference on Monday. “How can we trust them?”
Nato would become “a hatchery” for terrorists if the two countries joined, he said.
The Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, has repeatedly said the two Nordic countries would be "welcomed with open arms" and accession would be quick, but the process requires unanimity among the alliance's 30 existing members. Turkey's objections, even if aimed at extracting concessions, could delay the process.
The Swedish defence minister, Peter Hultqvist, said on Monday that Stockholm was working hard to overcome Ankara's reservations, while the foreign ministry said the Swedish and Finnish foreign ministers, Ann Linde and Pekka Haavisto, would travel "soon" to Turkey for talks.
Nato and the US have both previously said they were confident Turkey would not hold up accession. “I’m confident we will be able to address the concerns Turkey has expressed in a way that doesn’t delay the membership,” Stoltenberg said on Sunday.
Ms Andersson told reporters after Monday's three-hour parliamentary debate that Sweden would be "in a vulnerable position" while the application was processed, but that ministers saw no direct military threat from Russia at present.
Stockholm had received security assurances from key partners, including the US, Britain, Germany, France, she said, and on Monday Denmark, Norway and Iceland also pledged support, saying they would “assist Finland and Sweden by all means necessary” if they were attacked before obtaining Nato membership.
However, the government “can’t exclude that we will be subjected, for example, to disinformation and attempts to scare and divide us”, Andersson said, adding that if its application was approved, Sweden would not want permanent Nato military bases or nuclear weapons on its territory.
Russia's deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said the countries "should have no illusions that we will simply put up with it", calling the move "another grave mistake with far-reaching consequences" and warning that the "general level of military tension will increase".
However, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, later appeared to row back somewhat, said Moscow did not see Finnish and Swedish Nato membership as a direct threat in itself. "Russia has no problem with these states – none," Mr Putin said.
“And so in this sense there is no immediate threat to Russia from an expansion of Nato to include these countries,” he said. He warned, however, that deployment of military infrastructure on their territories “would certainly provoke our response”.
The Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, also said Moscow would "follow very carefully what will be the consequences" of the Nordic nations' move "for our security, which must be ensured in an absolutely unconditional manner".
Russia has previously advised both countries against joining Nato, saying such a move would oblige it to “restore military balance” by strengthening its defences in the Baltic Sea region, including by deploying nuclear weapons.
Finland shares an 1,300km land border with Russia, and Sweden a maritime border. Both countries have for decades considered that joining the 30-member, US-led Nato alliance would represent an unnecessary provocation of Moscow.
However, Mr Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24th has led to a profound change in thinking, with public support for Nato accession in Finland more than trebling to about 75 per cent and rising to between 50 per cent and 60 per cent in Sweden.
The Finnish parliament in Helsinki also debated the issue on Monday in a session likely to last longer than one day. While 85 per cent of Finland’s 200 MPs back membership, 150 have requested to speak and a vote was not expected on Monday.
"Our security environment has fundamentally changed," the prime minister, Sanna Marin, told parliament as she opened the debate. "The only country that threatens European security, and is now openly waging a war of aggression, is Russia." – Guardian