Sweden’s NATO accession bid hit by repeated rows with Turkey

ANKARA: Sweden’s bid for NATO membership faces a dead end, analysts said.

Relations were further strained by Swedish-Danish right-wing extremist leader Rasmus Paludan’s protest in front of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm.

After Paludan’s demonstration of burning a copy of the Holy Quran, eyes are now focused on the possible steps Ankara could take to counter NATO’s torpedo deployment to the Nordic countries.

Turkey’s foreign ministry condemned the Koran burning, describing it as a “vile act” and criticized the Swedish government’s decision to allow the protest as “completely unacceptable”.

In Sweden, this act is tolerated within the parameters of freedom of expression.

Amid growing diplomatic tension between the two countries, experts believe Turkey is unlikely to vote in favor of Sweden’s accession to NATO ahead of key domestic elections on May 14 – both parliamentary and presidential.

There is also no guarantee that the next president will have a majority in parliament after the election, making ratification more difficult and potentially leaving the bloc in uncharted waters after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Devlet Bahceli, head of the nationalist MHP party, a main ally of the ruling government in Turkey, has promised that Sweden’s NATO membership will not be approved by parliament.

After the protest, Ankara postponed a planned visit by Swedish Defense Minister Paul Johnson on January 27, but the meeting was expected to address Turkey’s objections to Swedish inclusion in the alliance.

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Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin condemned the demonstration, describing the attack on sacred values ​​as “modern barbarism”.

Colin tweeted: “Allowing this action despite all our warnings will promote hate crime and Islamophobia.”

In early January, he also said that Ankara was not in a position to approve Sweden’s NATO accession until all of its concerns were met.

As part of a long-running diplomatic battle, Turkey initially blocked Sweden’s NATO entry to push Stockholm to meet some of its political demands, including the extradition of several people sought by Turkish authorities on terrorism charges.

After decades of non-military ties, Sweden applied to join NATO in May and has taken steps to tighten its anti-terrorism laws to lift the Turkish veto.

It deported two members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, to Turkey.

Finland and Sweden signed a trilateral memorandum with Turkey last year in an attempt to overcome Ankara’s objections to their membership in NATO.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristerson said recently that his country, which insists that the courts have the final decision on extraditions, had already fulfilled its part of the memorandum, but that Turkey had more demands that Sweden could not meet, including the extradition of 130 people.

Under NATO rules, all 30 members must agree unanimously before a new state can join the alliance.

“Behind the scenes, the actual negotiations are well under way before the new year. Sweden has made significant progress on all aspects of the tripartite memorandum signed in June,” Paul Levin, director of Stockholm University’s Institute for Turkish Studies, told Arab News.

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“Now, however, the political logic of the campaign season in Turkey, combined with far-left and far-right groups in Sweden competing to humiliate the easily insulted Turkish president, has thrown the process into a tailspin,” he added.

Last week, a Kurdish group in Sweden released controversial footage showing the execution of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Stockholm and people calling him a “dictator”.

Ankara accuses Stockholm of harboring people affiliated with the PKK and its allies in northern Syria and Iraq. Sweden has pledged to distance itself from all Kurdish groups considered extremist by Turkey in order to secure Ankara’s support for its NATO bid.

“I suspect that Stockholm will try to avoid hunkering down and escalating the situation while continuing to implement the memorandum,” Levin said.

“I don’t expect anything positive from Turkey on confirmation before the election, but if Erdogan wins, it may take a lot longer than that,” he added.

Unlike Turkey, Hungary has still not accepted the NATO membership applications of Sweden and Finland.

According to Söner Cagapte, director of the Turkish program at the Washington Institute, the latest show, along with all other similar provocations in recent times, will bury Sweden’s hopes of joining NATO before Turkey’s election.

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“Erdogan has already engineered this accession bid, but Turkey itself has legitimate security concerns regarding Sweden’s callous attitude towards the PKK and its affiliates,” he told Arab News.

Cagapte said any concessions from Sweden would help Erdogan boost his popularity.

Cagapte believes that Erdogan decided to leverage Sweden’s inclusion with NATO allies to buy tacit political support during his campaign season.

“He knows that NATO allies can moderate any criticism of him during this election process,” he said.

“Until that moment, he will use this entry bid as a sword of Damocles to keep them quiet about his policies during the election campaign,” the director said.

“It takes two to tango. Erdoğan, who is running for re-election, has help from Sweden’s right and far left, who are not at all interested in NATO accession,” Cagapte said.

Last week, another extremist leader, Jimmy Akesson, this time from the Sweden Democrats, criticized Erdogan, branding him a “dictator”.

Several Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, have already condemned the demonstration.

“Saudi Arabia calls for spreading the values ​​of dialogue, tolerance and coexistence and rejects hatred and extremism,” the Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The Gulf Cooperation Council also condemned the protest.

Sweden’s prime minister has described the Koran burning incident in Stockholm as “grossly disrespectful”.

In retaliation, some groups burned the Swedish flag in front of the Swedish consulate in Istanbul.

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