While nothing has been set in stone yet, there are signs that talks between Turkey and Sweden over that nation’s NATO membership application may be moving toward an agreement. Yesterday, Turkey offered a list of “concrete assurances” that Sweden could provide that might result in Turkey agreeing to vote in favor of the application, likely assuring Sweden’s rapid entry into the alliance. And the assurances Turkey is seeking once again involve the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkey considers the PKK a terrorist organization and wants Sweden to stop providing support to the group, along with turning over Kurds that have sought refuge in Sweden. For their part, Sweden claims they don’t support the PKK, but only provide humanitarian relief to Kurds in Syria who have been displaced by the ongoing conflicts in that region. (Associated Press)
Turkey this week listed five “concrete assurances” it is demanding from Sweden, including what it said was “termination of political support for terrorism,” an “elimination of the source of terrorism financing,” and the “cessation of arms support” to the banned PKK and a Syrian Kurdish militia group affiliated with it. The demands also called for the lifting of arms sanctions against Turkey and global cooperation against terrorism.
Turkey said that it has been requesting the extradition of Kurdish militants and other suspects since 2017, but hasn’t received a positive response from Stockholm. Among other things, Ankara claimed that Sweden had decided to provide $376 million to support the Kurdish militants in 2023 and that it had provided military equipment to them, including anti-tank weapons and drones.
Sweden has denied that it was providing any “financial assistance or military support” to Kurdish groups or entities in Syria.
Delegations from both Sweden and Finland are preparing to meet with representatives of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s administration this week. The fact that Turkey is publicly talking about conditions that could lead to an agreement with Sweden is a hopeful sign, but the list of demands may be too much for the Swedes to swallow. They might be willing to lift some military arms export sanctions that they have in place against Turkey, which would be a start. But agreeing to turn over some PKK members residing in Sweden would basically mean handing them a death sentence. Sweden doesn’t consider the PKK to be a terrorist organization, so that would be a tough concession to make. They also won’t be eager to end humanitarian aid to Kurds in Syria.
There is no doubt that Turkey has serious issues with the Kurds, but this list of “concrete demands” may have been designed to fail intentionally. Erdogan wants to keep his close ties to Vladimir Putin despite the global sanctions against Russia. Facilitating the entry of either Sweden or Finland into NATO will almost certainly enrage Mad Vlad and put Turkey on his list of enemies. If Erdogan can look “reasonable” by offering a deal but ensure that Sweden will not comply, he can shift the blame.
As much as Turkey wants to remain in Russia’s good graces, Erdogan also gains many advantages by being a member of NATO. He’s trying to play it both ways and thus far he’s been able to keep up that balancing act. The window of opportunity to keep that up may be closing, however. What is the point of having a NATO member who constantly cozies up to Russia, China, and Iran?
There’s still no word about a similar offer to Finland. Erdogan has similarly accused that nation of supporting “terrorism,” but the claims have been less specific. Finland is also the nation that shares a massive border with Russia. It’s likely that Turkey doesn’t want to risk a public deal with Finland because Putin would see that as an even greater betrayal. It’s good that all three nations are talking this week, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up for a major breakthrough.