After Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an's fiery Friday remarks expressing anger at recent declarations of Western countries saying they want see Sweden and Finland fast-tracked into NATO, Turkey's foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told NATO diplomats in Berlin on Saturday that the Scandinavian countries' just-announced bids to join the alliance are "unacceptable and outrageous" given their support to Kurdish rebels which have waged war against the Turkish state since the 1990s.
He stressed the majority of Turkish citizens – in the country which also happens to form NATO's second largest military – are adamantly opposed to Sweden and Finland's membership, given they host and give aid to PKK "terrorists".
"The problem is that these two countries are openly supporting and engaging with PKK and YPG [People’s Protection Units]," Cavusoglu said in a message directed to his NATO counterparts.
"These are terrorist organizations that have been attacking our troops every day," the top Turkish diplomat added. "Therefore, it is unacceptable and outrageous that our friends and allies are supporting this terrorist organization."
"These are the issues that we need to talk about with our NATO allies, as well as these countries" – he added in reference to Finland and Sweden. FM Cavusoglu's words echoed Erdo?an's press statements from the day prior, which spelled out that "Sweden has become a home for PKK and other terror groups. We don’t view their NATO membership positively."
Sweden in particular has long accepted an influx of Kurds from Iraq, Turkey and Syria. Over the past five years it's been commonly estimated that Syrians make up about 9-10% of the total population of Sweden.
Finland's response has been to push back against the possibility of Ankara potentially blocking its membership bid. Finnish President Sauli Niinisto had this to say:
"I wouldn’t speculate at all that this would mean Turkey throwing a spanner in the works for good," Niinisto said in an interview broadcast on Finland’s YLE TV1 on Saturday. "Until now, Turkey’s message to us has been completely the opposite," he said, adding that "this is sure to lead to discussions, seeing as the US appears to have reacted".
Sweden reacted similarly, saying Ankara had yet to convey these concerns directly. Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said in a media interview concerning her country's NATO bid, "If we decide on that option, I think we would get very, very strong support from large, important countries that are members, and that Turkey is interested in having good relationships with."
One commentator quipped that it's time to boot Turkey from NATO…
— George Mastropavlos (@g_mastropavlos) May 15, 2022
Finland's president immediately invoking the United States is interesting given both countries would need strong public support from Washington, especially now with Turkey out of the gate voicing strong opposition. So far the US pledged that it will deliver.
But circumstances certainly now put Turkey in the driver's seat. Like with the recent years' S-400 saga which put Ankara in a tug-of-war with Moscow and Washington, Turkey's leadership can now use its considerable leverage to get what it wants out of NATO allies.
The Turkish "demands" have already begun…
Turkey laid out demands on Sunday on the sidelines of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin, saying it wanted the two Nordic countries to end support for Kurdish militant groups present on their territory, and to lift the ban on sales of some arms to Turkey.
.@SecBlinken says he is “very confident that we will reach consensus” on Finland and Sweden joining NATO despite Turkey’s indications that they would not currently support their membership.
— Jennifer Hansler (@jmhansler) May 15, 2022
In the meantime a Kremlin official, Russian senator Viktor Bondarev has announced Russia is ready to station additional groupings of troops on its side of the Russian-Finnish border if it enters the NATO alliance.