Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoan, said for the first time that Ankara could let Finland join NATO even though Sweden is not in Finland’s immediate neighborhood.
A few days after Ankara stopped talking with the two countries about joining NATO, Erdoan made his comments at a televised meeting with younger voters.
The move by the alliance made it possible that its plans to grow to 32 members at a summit in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, in July could be derailed.
As a direct response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Finland and Sweden decided to end their decades-long policy of staying out of the military and apply to join the defense alliance.
Turkey and Hungary are the only two members whose parliaments have not yet voted in favor of either of the two initiatives.
In February, the Hungarian parliament will likely approve both proposals.
But Erdoan has dug in his heels before a close election on May 14. He is trying to get conservatives and nationalists, whose support he has built up, to vote for him.
The main thing that makes Erdoan angry is that Sweden won’t hand over dozens of suspects who Ankara says are connected to illegal Kurdish militants and a failed coup attempt in 2016.
On Sunday, he made a clear difference between how Sweden and Finland have acted over the past few months.
“If it becomes necessary, we can come up with a different way to deal with Finland.”
“Sweden will be surprised when we treat Finland differently,” Erdoan said.
He also said again that Sweden needs to hand over people the Turkish government is looking for.
Erdogan was quoted as saying, “If you want to join NATO, you will give us back these terrorists.”
Sweden has a bigger group of Kurds living outside of Turkey than Finland does, and its disagreement with Ankara is more heated.
Both countries have been working for months on the same goal, which is to get Erdoan to give up his resistance.
The Swedish people have agreed to a change to the constitution that will let Sweden pass stricter anti-terrorism laws in response to demands from Ankara.
Both the US and the UK have lifted restrictions on selling weapons to Turkey that were put in place after Turkey’s military operation in Syria in 2019.
A far-right extremist set fire to a copy of the Qur’an during a protest in front of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm earlier this month. The Swedish police let the protest happen. When this decision was made, Ankara was very angry.
Ankara is also angry that a Swedish prosecutor decided not to press charges against a Kurdish group that hung a fake Erdogan by its ankles outside of Stockholm City Court.
Sweden’s leaders have been very critical of the protests, but they have also defended their country’s generally open-minded approach to free speech.
Because of the standoff between Ankara and Stockholm, Finnish officials made a veiled hint, which they did for the first time the week before, that they might have to join NATO even though Sweden doesn’t want to.
Since the beginning, the two countries have worked toward the same goal: joining the bloc together.
Pekka Haavisto, the Finnish foreign minister, said on Tuesday of last week that his country needed to “evaluate the situation” to see if something had happened that would stop Sweden from going forward in the long run.