NATO’s Nordic Expansion: Turkey Threatens to Block Sweden & Finland Bids As Russia Suffers Series of Defeats

Written by | Friday, May 20th, 2022

The United States has said Turkish concerns about the NATO membership bids by Sweden and Finland can be addressed. Ankara has blocked discussions on the two Northern European countries’ accession NATO hours after they officially launched their bids to join the alliance. Turkey has accused Sweden and Finland of harboring “terrorists”, while also criticizing Stockholm for suspending weapons sales to Ankara in 2019 over its involvement in the war in Syria.
When Sweden and Finland signaled they were thinking of making the historic decision joining NATO, the alliance expected a tough response from Moscow, not from one of its own. Yet President Tayyip Erdogan shocked fellow NATO members on Friday (13 May) by saying it was not possible for NATO-member Turkey to support the Nordic countries’ plans by to join the pact because both of them were “home to many terrorist organizations”. A day later, at a NATO gathering in Berlin of foreign ministers with their Finnish and Swedish counterparts to celebrate the biggest shift in European security in decades, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavu?o?lu darkened the mood. Çavu?o?lu, who was “in crisis mode”, not only set conditions for Turkey accepting the membership bids but raised his voice at Sweden’s Ann Linde in what was reportedly an “embarrassing” break in protocol. Ankara’s main demands are for the Nordic countries to halt support for Kurdish militant groups present on their territory, and to lift their bans on some sales of arms to Turkey.
Spurred on by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO on Wednesday (18 May). Russia, which says the threat posed by NATO expansion was a major reason it sent troops into Ukraine, has played it cool. President Vladimir Putin said their bids to join NATO posed no direct threat to Russia, though Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov noted Finland and Sweden joining was a “grave mistake” with “far-reaching consequences”. But the US President Joe Biden has said the bids by the Nordic countries to join NATO would be successful, despite objections raised by Turkey to their applications. Yet, despite Biden’s hope that “we’re going to be OK,” NATO envoys meeting in Brussels failed to reach a consensus on whether to start membership talks, diplomats said, amid Turkey’s objections. The applications must be weighed by NATO’s 30 member countries in a process that is expected to take about two weeks.
Meanwhile, Russia is losing manpower at an unsustainable rate, as its forces were forced to retreat from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, and they were pushed back to the Russian border 40km away. Russia seems to be contracting plans for a grand pincer movement around Ukrainian forces in the country’s east, partly because of a lack of manpower. A particularly humiliating defeat occurred last week when Ukrainian forces inflicted heavy losses on the Russian 74th Motorized Rifle Brigade, as it attempted to cross the Siverskyi Donets river, reportedly killing 485 and destroying 80 pieces of equipment. Ukraine claims Russia has lost almost 28,000 troops – 20% of the force that launched Moscow’s so-called “special military operation” and as much as 60% of the equipment involved in the invasion. And things don’t look good for Russia, as Ukraine can continue to count on arms supplies from EU states as it inflicts “record” losses on Russia’s invading force, the EU’s foreign affairs chief has said. “The war is at a critical moment, a turning point, and we cannot let Ukraine run out of equipment and we will not [do so],” Josep Borrell said after meeting EU defense ministers in Brussels Tuesday (17 May).

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