NATO: Sweden increasingly stuck in its negotiations with Turkey

Between almost impossible demands from Turkey and anti-Erdogan demonstrations by radical activists in Sweden, the Swedish government finds itself at an impasse to obtain the green light from Ankara to join NATO.

The prospect of an unblocking before the Turkish legislative elections scheduled for mid-May is now very low.

“We can probably forget now a Turkish ratification before the elections,” said Paul Levin, director of the Institute of Turkish Studies at Stockholm University.

“On the one hand Erdogan wants to divert attention from an economy in bad shape in the months leading up to the elections,” he told AFP.

“On the other hand, groups in Sweden who are against NATO and supporters of the PKK worried about the assurances given by the government have understood that they could anger the Turkish president by insulting him and thus derail the process of membership”, summarizes the expert.

On Saturday, a demonstration – authorized by the police – in front of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm of anti-Islam and anti-immigration activist Rasmus Paludan provoked Turkish anger.

This right-wing extremist who has made the burning of the Koran his main mode of political action has come to burn a copy of the sacred book of Muslims, under heavy police protection.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (AFP – )

Sweden’s liberal constitution and freedom of protest and speech had led police to consider that the action of the leader of the microparty “Stram Kurs” (Hard Line) should be allowed.

Incomprehensible for Ankara, which after summoning the Swedish ambassador, canceled the visit of Defense Minister Pål Jonson scheduled for the end of next week – a rare high-level meeting still on the agenda.

This is the second diplomatic incident since the beginning of the year, after the one caused in mid-January by pro-Kurdish activists who hung an Erdogan mannequin by the feet in front of Stockholm City Hall, Mussolini 1945 style.

An action described as “sabotage” of the Swedish candidacy for NATO and a “simulacrum of execution” of a “democratically elected” leader by Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson.

– “Islamist dictator” –

But the conservative leader’s strong words have also earned him criticism for what many Swedes say amounts to a democratic protest.

The leader of the Swedish far right, who is not in government but is the first formation of the current majority, also called on Mr. Kristersson not to give too much to Mr. Erdogan, whom he described as passage of “Islamist dictator”.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on January 20, 2023 (AFP - ANDRE PAIN)
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on January 20, 2023 (AFP – ANDRE PAIN)

“We can’t go too far. Because it is above all an undemocratic system and a dictator with which we have to deal,” warned Jimmie Åkesson on Wednesday.

At the same time, Turkey always seems to be upping the ante, demanding ever-increasing numbers of extraditions of Kurdish “terrorists” living in Sweden. Up to 130, President Erdogan recently slipped.

And this while it is the Swedish justice, and not the government, which has the last word on extradition requests.

Turkey “wants things that we cannot and do not want to give it”, admitted Mr. Kristersson at the beginning of January, in reference to the thorny question of extraditions.

The Secretary General of NATO, who last spring was counting on an express membership of a few weeks, thinks that it will take place in 2023 but is not in a position to guarantee it, he confided in early January in a interview with AFP.

“I will not guarantee the exact date, because it is of course a sovereign decision of the Turkish Parliament and the Hungarian Parliament, which have not yet ratified”, affirmed Jens Stoltenberg.

Both Turkey and Hungary have maintained ties with Russia despite the invasion of Ukraine, with Ankara placing itself as a possible mediator in the conflict.

Rare good news for Sweden: Finland does not currently intend to join NATO without its Swedish “big brother”.

“We hope that we will enter NATO together,” Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin reaffirmed in Davos last week, when asked about the hypothesis that Turkey would ratify Finnish membership and not Sweden.

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