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Finland allowed to join NATO as recalcitrant Turkey ratifies membership


ANKARA — Turkey’s parliament on Thursday ratified Finland’s application for NATO membership, lifting the final hurdle in the Nordic country’s long-delayed path to joining the Western military alliance.

The 276 lawmakers present voted in favor of Finland’s candidacy, days after the Hungarian parliament also approved Helsinki’s membership.

“This will make the whole NATO family stronger and safer,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter, praising Turkey’s action.

Alarmed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a year ago, Finland and Sweden abandoned their decades-long policy of non-alignment and asked to join the alliance.

Full unanimity is required to admit new members to the 30-member alliance, and Turkey and Hungary were the last two NATO members to ratify Finland’s membership.

Sweden’s bid to join the alliance, meanwhile, has been left in abeyance, with Turkey and Hungary refusing to give it the green light despite their support for NATO expansion.

The Turkish government accuses Sweden of being too soft on groups it sees as terrorist organizations and security threats, including Kurdish militant groups and people associated with a 2016 coup attempt.

More recently, Turkey has been angered by a series of protests in Sweden, including a protest by an anti-Islam activist who burned the Koran outside the Turkish embassy.

The Hungarian government claims that some Swedish politicians made derisory statements about the state of Hungarian democracy and played an active role in ensuring that billions of European Union funds were frozen due to alleged violations of the rule of law and democracy.

Turkish officials said that unlike Sweden, Finland has fulfilled its obligations under a memorandum signed last year under which the two countries pledged to address Turkey’s security concerns.

Turkey has become the latest NATO country to ratify Finland's membership of the US-led defense alliance following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The Turkish Parliament approved Finland’s application for NATO membership in Ankara on Thursday.Adem Altan / AFP-Getty Images

“As a member of NATO, we naturally had expectations and demands regarding our country’s security issues,” Akif Cagatay Kilic, a lawmaker from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party, told parliament before the meeting. vote. “I would like to highlight the concrete measures and their implementation by Finland, which have supported and shaped the decision we are taking here.”

Kilic added: “I am aware that there are a lot of people watching us from Finland. … We can say to them: “Welcome to NATO”.

Some opposition parties have criticized the Turkish government’s position towards the two Nordic countries.

“Unfortunately, (Erdogan’s ruling party) has turned the right to veto Finland’s and Sweden’s membership bids into a tool of blackmail and threat. We don’t approve of it,” said Hisyar Ozsoy, an MP from the pro-Kurdish party. “We find the process of negotiating (to lobby for) the extradition of dissident Kurdish writers, politicians and journalists… to be ugly, wrong and illegal.”

Asked earlier this week about Sweden joining NATO, Erdogan told reporters: “There are certain things we expect from them. They must first be completed.

Sweden, which has made constitutional changes to pass tougher anti-terrorism laws, has expressed hope that it can join before July’s NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.

“Sweden faces greater hurdles in its bid,” Hamish Kinnear, Middle East and North Africa analyst at risk intelligence firm Verisk Maplecroft, wrote in emailed comments.

“Turkey is unlikely to approve joining the alliance before the May elections. The Quran burning incident has sparked popular anger in Turkey and President Tayyip Recep Erdogan will not want to risk angering his conservative base ahead of the election,” Kinnear said.

Finland’s membership, which has a 1,340-kilometre (832-mile) border with Russia, has geographic and political significance for NATO, said Mai’a Cross, a political science professor at Northeastern University.

“Finland is in a very important strategic location and this kind of shift from neutrality to responding to Russian aggression reinforces NATO’s demonstration of political will,” she said.

Cross added that the delay gave Finland a better chance to prepare.

“Finland is already taking part in meetings with NATO. It is already reorganizing its armed forces,” she said. “So when he officially enters NATO, he can actually start.”

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.