Finland’s top diplomat indicates that the country may have to join NATO without Sweden

Finland’s top diplomat appeared to suggest on Tuesday that the country might have to consider joining NATO without Sweden after the Turkish president cast doubt on expanding the military alliance.

“We still have to assess the situation if Sweden’s application turns out to be stalled for a long time to come,” Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told Finnish broadcaster YLE.

His comment came a day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Sweden not to expect support for its bid for NATO membership following weekend protests in Stockholm by anti-Islam activist and pro-Kurdish groups.

It was the first time that a senior government official in either country seemed to raise doubts about joining the coalition all together. Haavisto later backtracked, telling reporters in Parliament that his comment earlier on Tuesday was “inaccurate” and that Finland’s ambition to join NATO jointly with Sweden had not changed.

Turkey will oppose Sweden’s membership in NATO after the Stockholm protests witnessed the burning of the Qur’an

He said he spoke with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who assured Haavisto that the military bloc would like to see the two northern countries join simultaneously.

“But of course there are concerns raised within NATO about how the (recent) events in Sweden will affect the timeline,” Haavisto said.

Sweden and Finland’s bid to join NATO needs the approval of all existing NATO members, including Turkey, which has so far blocked expansion, saying Sweden in particular needs to crack down on Kurdish militants in exile and their sympathizers.

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto speaks at Parliament House in Helsinki, Finland, on January 24, 2023. Haavisto appears to have suggested that the country might have to join NATO without Sweden.
(Vesa Moilanen/Lehtikuva via AP)

So far, Sweden and Finland have committed to joining the coalition together, but Haavisto’s comment to YLE raised concerns that Finland was considering moving on without its northern neighbor.

Turkey says the Swedish decision does not challenge the Kurdish protest “in vain”

“We are in contact with Finland to find out what is really meant,” Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström told the Associated Press. “Sweden respects the agreement between Sweden, Finland and Turkey regarding our membership in NATO. We have done so until now and will continue to do so.”

In a memorandum of understanding signed by the three countries at a NATO summit last year, Sweden and Finland committed themselves not to support armed Kurdish groups and to lift the arms embargo imposed on Turkey after its incursion into northern Syria in 2019.

Pro-Kurdish and anti-Turkish demonstrations in Stockholm complicated the process. On Saturday, a far-right activist from Denmark staged a protest outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm where the Quran, Islam’s holy book, was burned. A separate pro-Kurdish demonstration was held later in the day in the Swedish capital.

The Swedish government has tried to distance itself from the demonstrations, while insisting that such protests are permitted given freedom of expression in the country.

Turkey reacted angrily to the protests, canceling a planned visit by the Swedish Defense Minister to Ankara. Protests took place outside the Swedish diplomatic missions in Ankara and Istanbul.

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Erdogan criticized the Swedish authorities for allowing the demonstration of burning the Koran.

“It is clear that those who have allowed such filth to happen in front of our embassy can no longer expect any charity from us in connection with their application to join NATO,” he said.

He also criticized the pro-Kurdish demonstration, accusing Sweden of letting “terrorist organizations run wild in your streets and streets”. He said that if Sweden does not show respect for Turkey or Muslims, “they will not see any support from us on the issue of NATO.”

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