Turkey blocks NATO expansion. It could backfire and give Putin a propaganda coup CNN



When Sweden and Finland announced their intention to join NATO last May, it was seen by many as a poke in Russia’s eyes and evidence of a shift in European thinking. Historically, both countries had committed not to join NATO so as not to provoke Moscow. The invasion of Ukraine changed that.

Both Finland and Sweden – along with the vast majority of NATO allies – would like to see the countries formally join the alliance at a NATO summit on July 11. to give the plan its formal and official blessing.

Turkey isn’t the only country blocking the move: Hungary has also failed to ratify Scandinavia’s accession, further muddying the waters. At the moment, however, it is considered a priority to get Turkey on the side.

Unfortunately for the pro-NATO gang, Western officials are increasingly pessimistic that Turkey will concede.

Officially, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan objects to the membership of Sweden and Finland on security grounds, he says. Turkey claims that both countries, but Sweden in particular, harbor militants from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a designated terror group in Turkey, Sweden, the United States and Europe. Erdogan says he would like these individuals extradited; Sweden has made it clear that this will not happen.

NATO diplomats are divided over whether they think Turkey will concede before the July summit. At the center of both tendencies is this year’s Turkish elections, which are seen as the biggest political threat Erdogan has faced in years.

“The image he has created of a strong man who gets results for the Turkish people has been shattered,” explained Gonul Tol of the Middle East Institute’s Turkey Program. “There is currently a lot of anti-Western and anti-Kurdish sentiment in Turkey. This is a good subject for him to bang his drum and a dramatic U-turn would just make him look weaker.”

Tol believes there are other reasons why Erdogan does not want to upset Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Russia has been a lifeline for Turkey economically after other nations imposed sanctions on their activities in Syria, their military cooperation with Russia and other hostile activities,” Tol explained. “Without Russian money, Erdogan would not have been able to raise wages or support students financially. He now promises massive reconstruction after the earthquake. So Russia is still an attractive partner for Erdogan.”

Like many Western officials, Tol believes that Turkey’s claims that Sweden and Finland harbor terrorists provide a perfect cover for Erdogan not to engage in the NATO issue at a politically inopportune time.

While nothing may come of the talks between the three parties on Thursday, talk is underway about how much political capital Erdogan could spend post-election, should he win.

First, the optimists.

This group includes Sweden, Finland and some states bordering Russia or formerly living under the Soviet sphere. They believe that Turkey, which benefits enormously from NATO membership, will ultimately do what is in its best interests and drop objections.

For this to happen, officials are bracing for Turkey to make more realistic demands than extraditing individuals it deems terrorists, such as lifting sanctions or allowing Turkey to buy the fighter jets the country desperately needs. has to keep the air force up to date.

In the end, the optimists believe there is a compromise that greatly benefits NATO. The alliance, Sweden and Finland have made their case and NATO has an open door policy for any country that wants to join. Sweden and Finland have largely met the criteria, so not joining is a mockery of the alliance – an alliance that Turkey benefits from being a member of. A NATO official told CNN they assumed Erdogan would wait for the summit before conceding so he can bask in the “praise of all his Western allies”.

The much larger group of officials who spoke to CNN are pessimists. They think the chances of Erdogan shifting his stance before July 11 are close to zero and are already thinking beyond that top.

“I think it is increasingly likely that Finland will break away from Sweden and go for membership alone,” a NATO diplomat told CNN.

Other members of the alliance still see a real prospect of blocking both countries and are considering how NATO might best handle such a scenario.

Multiple NATO officials and diplomats told CNN that the danger here is that Turkey is feeding the Kremlin narrative that the West and NATO are divided. The task of the alliance at that point will be to make it clear that Finland and Sweden, even though they are not members, are now effectively in step with NATO. They may not be members, but they are as close partners as you can get – and they are no longer neutral.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is considered the closest EU leader to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Even if Turkey can be resolved, there is the separate albeit less complicated issue of Hungary.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban has publicly indicated he is not opposed to the Nordic countries joining, but continues to find ways to delay an official decision.

There are a few reasons why Orban would want to drag his feet. Finland and Sweden have both criticized Hungary for its rule of law record. He addressed this in a recent interview, asking how “can anyone want to be our ally in a military system while they are blatantly spreading lies about Hungary?”

Orban is considered the closest EU leader to Putin. Katalin Cseh, a Hungarian MEP, describes Orbán’s blocking of Sweden’s and Finland’s bids as “simply another favor to Vladimir Putin.” She believes that Orban, who has been accused of drifting towards autocratic leadership, has “invested more than a decade to copy his policies and build a Putinist model”, and that any alleged NATO victory over Putin “is his threatens the entire regime”.

It is possible that Orban will stick around to get concessions from other EU member states, where Hungary is accused of violating various EU laws. The result is the withholding of EU funds and disdain from the bloc. While NATO and the EU are separate entities, they have many members in common and bilateral diplomacy between Hungary and its EU counterparts is likely to have some give and take.

However, for all of Orbán’s plodding, it is widely believed that if Turkey can cope, Hungary will drop its opposition to Finland and Sweden joining NATO.

The irony has not escaped many that one of the main reasons Putin gave for the invasion of Ukraine was to end what he claimed was the expansion of NATO. The fact that its aggression could have pushed a historically unaligned country into NATO is still seen by most in the West as a huge Kremlin goal of its own.

However, until an agreement is reached, the alliance’s future remains somewhat up in the air. Finland and Sweden have effectively taken sides since the start of the Ukraine conflict. It seems unlikely that they would return to a position of neutrality if the war were to end suddenly.

The risk to NATO and the wider Western alliance comes if they don’t join the alliance at all and the Kremlin can use it for propaganda purposes. If that happens, even if the war suddenly ends, the story of a divided West will continue to be the drum for NATO’s opponents to beat.

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