During the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, various nations around the world reassessed their national security needs, as many thought Europe would not have another large scale war, one which could potentially have nuclear consequences if mistakes are made. As the Kremlin has openly attempted to annex territory of Ukraine and sent nuclear threats towards the West, Sweden and its neighbor, Finland, broke their non-NATO aligned pacts and formally applied to join the military alliance.
Sweden’s NATO ascension was met with praise from Europe and the U.S. and utter shock from Russia, whose aggressive policies backfired on the Kremlin. Immediately, heads of state of the alliance started to guarantee membership to the Swedish government—all except Turkey.
Swedish and Turkish relations have been turbulent to say the least. Ankara has held a grudge over Stockholm for giving asylum to members of Kurdish separatist and paramilitary organizations, which the Swedish government has refused to extradite for the past several decades.
The Turkish government has come under increasing scrutiny in NATO with its increasing relation with Moscow, with the purchasing of Russian made S-400 missile system, incapable of integrating with the alliances’ more advanced weapon systems such as the F-35B. With Europe embroiled in its largest conflict since WWII, Ankara has openly blocked Sweden’s NATO membership until its conditions are met.
What Does Turkey want from Sweden?
Ankara has seen a perpetual Kurdish insurgency as one of its biggest national security concerns. Violent conflicts over the past forty years have occurred in the southeast of the country and the Turkish government has launched military invasions in Iraq and Syria to dislodge paramilitaries such as the PKK and YPJ, who have embedded within the SDF. The SDF has become a major partner to the United States to combat ISIS, setting relations between Washington and Ankara to a near low.
Many Kurds and Turkish dissidents have fled from the fighting and authoritative government of Ankara, choosing to apply to Sweden for asylum. Much of the pro-Kurdish independence movements and activism have taken place in Sweden, much to the ire of Turkey which couldn’t do anything about it as for years, they held no leverage against Sweden — until the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
During the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian War, both Finland and Sweden, which stayed out of the Cold War conflicts to not inflate tensions with the Kremlin, reassessed their foreign policy. They did this because the Russian government they thought was ready to assimilate and let go of their imperialist past showed their true colors with the invasion of Ukraine, annexation of Ukrainian lands, and threatening the world under the pretext of “Nuclear Armageddon” if their demands aren’t met.
Europe’s largest war since WWII would only benefited the Turkish government which now found its leverage over the Swedish government. For months, Erdogan’s cabinet has stated Sweden has not met the requirements to join NATO. An ironic statement, as Erdogan has ruined relations with several NATO members, such as the U.S., France, and Greece due to his unorthodox foreign policy.
Despite Sweden giving some concessions to Turkey, the Turkish government has wanted more than it can chew, wanting to break international law on dissidents that cannot be extradited under Swedish law. Sweden’s High Court rejected extradition requests of four people, allegedly connected to the 2016 Turkish Coup, which was assessed as a “blessing” due to the event giving Erdogan even more authoritative power.
During ongoing negotiations with Stockholm, the Turkish government requested even more extraditions, from 33 to 42, showing Ankara is willing to get as much out of Sweden as possible, even if its purgatory ascension status is detrimental towards its national security with Russia.
More than just Extraditions?
The Turkish government has shown signs that the dispute is not just with Sweden, but a grudge against other NATO members, as the country has come under intense scrutiny for its own rogue policies. A major turning point in Turkish relations with prominent NATO members such as France and the U.S. came during the Syrian War. With Turkey refusing to allow the coalition to use their airbases to launch strikes against ISIS, the decision was made by the U.S. to instead fully arm Kurdish paramilitaries to combat the terrorist organization.
Turkey interpreted this as a slight as NATO historically backed the nation against the Kurdish insurgency and made the decision to invade several points of Syria’s north to dislodge the SDF power bases. This action came at the expense of Washington’s own foreign policy goals in Syria and gradually the U.S. rejected its Patriot Missile sale to Ankara.
Playing tit for tat, Turkey looked to Russia for its S-400 systems, which was widely condemned by all NATO members and prompted economic sanctions by the U.S. This would continue Turkey’s woes, as the State Department would expel them from the F-35 program and instead put Greece, their historical rival in the program.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee have also continuously vetoed sending Turkey upgraded F-16s, as Erdogan’s AKP coalition have continuously violated human rights of their own citizens, journalists, and stoked tensions across the region. This is where the Turkish government has used its NATO veto power to not just Sweden, but the United States.
The Biden administration has prepared plans to send Turkey F-16s as it is becoming clear their government’s disputes with Sweden were a pretext for blackmail towards the entire defense pact of NATO. During the same time, the Swedish government has stated their path to membership has moved more smoothly, signaling Turkey’s demands are more than what they expect from them.
Erdogan’s policies of blackmail have also come at an opportunistic time, as Turkish elections are taking place later this year. With a focus on security, as his economic policies have failed, the AKP has used the country’s ire towards Western isolationism of the nation to gather more support in order to prop itself up.
It should be noted despite the AKP becoming unpopular, it is near universal in Turkey to combat Kurdish militaries and what they perceive as disrespectful actions by the United States and Sweden. The current standoff between Stockholm and Ankara will have far reaching effects as Erdogan has even fewer friends in the current alliance now that the thirty plus members are aware his country will continue to use the veto power to obtain their personal objectives at the expense of other members.
[Image credit: Wikimedia Commons]
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
Julian McBride is a forensic anthropologist and independent journalist born in New York. He is the founder and director of the Reflections of War Initiative (ROW), an anthropological NGO which aims to tell the stories of the victims of war through art therapy. As a former Marine, he uses this technique not only to help heal PTSD but also to share people’s stories through art, which conveys “the message of the brutality of war better than most news organizations.”