Turkey has dropped its opposition to Finland and Sweden’s bid to join NATO, removing one of the last remaining obstacles to the Nordic countries’ accession to the Western military alliance.
Turkey "got what it wanted" from Sweden and Finland before agreeing to back their drives to join NATO, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's office said in a statement on Tuesday.
Turkey had cast a veto against Helsinki and Stockholm’s NATO accession drive, accusing them of backing anti-Ankara Kurdish militants, known as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The veto had also been driven by Turkey’s protest against a ban, which the countries began to apply on weapon sales to Ankara following the Turkish invasion of Syria in 2019.
Erdogan’s office, however, said a four-way deal among Turkey, the European states, and the alliance itself had helped allay Ankara’s concerns.
The two Nordic countries agreed to "cooperate fully with Turkey in its fight against the PKK" and, what Ankara calls, its affiliates, said the statement. The two countries will ban "fundraising and recruitment activities" for the Kurdish militants, and "prevent terrorist propaganda against Turkey," it added.
Militants of the PKK — designated as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union — regularly clash with Turkish forces in the Kurdish-dominated southeast of Turkey attached to northern Iraq. The decades-long conflict between Turkey and the autonomy-seeking militant group has led to the death of tens of thousands of people.
Meanwhile, NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also said Sweden and Finland would lift their restrictions on selling weapons to Turkey too.
"The concrete steps of our accession to NATO will be agreed by the NATO allies during the next two days, but that decision is now imminent," said Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto.
‘More NATO’ in Russia’s backyard
Citing “security” concerns, Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO after Russia launched a special military operation in its neighbor Ukraine on February 24.
Russia has repeatedly warned against the alliance’s further eastward expansion towards its borders.
Commenting on the countries’ bid to join NATO last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin said "the expansion of [the alliance’s] military infrastructure into this territory would certainly provoke our response."
Stoltenberg, however, made a point of saying, with Finland and Sweden’s accession to the alliance, Putin was now "getting more NATO on his borders."