Monday, on the eve of what could prove the most momentous NATO Summit in recent history, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that he would drop opposition to Sweden’s accession into NATO.
“President Erdogan has agreed to forward the Accession Protocol for Sweden to the Grand National Assembly as soon as possible and work closely with the assembly to ensure ratification,” said Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general, referring to Turkey’s parliament, in surprise remarks late Monday after meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson.
Both Sweden and Finland, spooked by Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, applied for NATO membership 14 months ago; see Finland Announces It Will Join NATO, Sweden to Follow, While Moscow Makes Its Usual Threats. Finland’s process went smoothly, but Sweden’s was complicated by Turkey’s insistence that Sweden extradite some members of the Kurdish resistance who had received political asylum.
As recently as the weekend, Erdogan seemed to say that without Sweden meeting his demands, there would be no NATO vote.
Earlier today, Erdogan floated the idea of exchanging his vote in favor of Sweden joining NATO for a vote on Turkey joining the EU. Thankfully, it got no traction.
The past few days have marked a significant departure in Turkish policy regarding NATO and Ukraine.
Over the weekend, Erdogan hosted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Istanbul. During that meeting, he voiced support for Ukrainian membership in NATO and released five Ukrainian commanders who were in Turkish custody and supposed to be interned until the end of hostilities, see Turkey’s Erdogan Delivers Two Stinging Defeats to Vladimir Putin in Just One Day. As I observed in that post:
Turkey has tried to tread the razor’s edge in the war between Russia and Ukraine and use its good offices to facilitate diplomatic agreements. The Black Sea Grain Initiative. On the other hand, Turkey has supplied equipment and munitions to the Ukrainian military, including drones, Mine-Resistant, Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, and cluster munitions; see US Releases Cluster Munitions to Ukraine in Stopgap Effort to Aid Ukraine’s Offensive. Turkey’s resistance to Sweden’s NATO accession has also been viewed as Erdogan trying to curry favor with Putin while pretending to be a member of NATO.
The message from the two events is clear. Turkey is clearly on the side of NATO. In particular, the prisoner release can only be interpreted as a middle finger directed at Putin. In my opinion, that only happened because of the Prigozhin mutiny and how weak and small it made Putin look; see Russian Coup Update: It Ends With a Whimper as Prigozhin Goes Into Exile but Will Anything Ever Be the Same?. The implication of these two actions is that Turkey has looked at how the pieces are lining up and has decided that there is little to be gained from pulling its punches on its support of Ukraine.
There are unconfirmed rumors that Turkey has decided to unilaterally keep the Black Sea Grain Initiative going using Turkish surface combatants to escort grain transports from Ukraine to the Mediterranean. It that is the case, then Turkey has firmly cast its lot with the West and Russia has an openly adversarial nation on its border instead of a mostly neutral one.