Turkey’s parliament has approved Sweden’s NATO membership bid

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shakes hands with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson as the Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg looks on during their meeting ahead of the NATO Summit on July 10, 2023 in Vilnius, Lithuania.Filip Singer / WPA Pool / Getty Images file

Turkey’s parliament has approved Sweden’s NATO membership bid after more than four hours of debates.

The legislators ratified Sweden’s accession protocol by 287 votes to 55, with four abstentions on Tuesday.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming days, ending the 20-month-long delay that has frustrated some of Ankara’s Western allies.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said after the vote that Stockholm was “one step closer” to joining the alliance.

“Positive that the Grand General Assembly of Turkiye has voted in favour of Sweden’s NATO accession,” he wrote on social media platform X.

Turkey’s ratification leaves Hungary as the last holdout in an accession process that Sweden and its neighbour Finland began in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nearly two years ago.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Tuesday he had invited Kristersson, for a visit to negotiate his country joining the military alliance.

Finland became the 31st member of the alliance last April. Its membership roughly doubled the length of NATO’s border with Russia and substantially strengthened the defences of three small Baltic nations that joined the bloc following the Soviet Union’s collapse.

Sweden and Finland pursued a policy of military non-alignment during the Cold War-era confrontation between Russia and the United States.

However, Russia’s bloody invasion of its western neighbour upturned geopolitical calculations.

Erdogan’s resistance to Sweden’s NATO accession reflected his more nuanced stance towards Moscow.

Ankara has profited from maintaining – and even expanding – trade with Russia while at the same time supplying Ukraine with drones and other essential arms.

Erdogan has also been one of the few NATO leaders to hold regular meetings and phone conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Turkish media reported that Putin could make his first wartime visit to Turkey next month.

F-16 fighter jets

Erdogan’s objections to Sweden’s bid initially focused on Stockholm’s perceived acceptance of Kurdish groups that Ankara views as “terrorists”.

Sweden has responded by tightening its antiterrorism legislation and taking other security steps demanded by Erdogan over the members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which the European Union and the United States also list as a “terrorist” group.

Sweden and NATO members Finland, Canada and the Netherlands also took steps to relax Turkey’s arms export policies.

The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee approved the Swedish bid last month after Erdogan forwarded it to parliament in October.

However, Erdogan has since demanded that the US follow through on its pledge to deliver a batch of F-16 fighter jets for Turkey’s ageing air force.

Erdogan last month discussed his demands by telephone with US President Joe Biden.

US officials argued that Turkey’s request could win the required congressional approval if Sweden’s NATO accession goes through – a position reaffirmed by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a visit to Istanbul this month.

“We have not parsed words about how ready we are for Sweden to formally join the alliance,” said US Department of State deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel after news emerged that Turkey was finally ready to ratify the Swedish candidacy.

“We have long felt that [Sweden] has met its commitment and we look forward to this process moving forward.”

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