Turkey’s Ukraine bid
Last week, Finland and Sweden made the historic announcement of officially announcing their bid to join NATO, the military alliance, bidding farewell to decades of quasi-neutrality, after Russia’s aggressive invasion of Ukraine forced the countries to revaluate their priorities, effectively closing the gap with the Alliance, even though the two Nordic countries had years of strong defence ties with NATO, and had been allies of the alliance since the 1990s.
The desire of two historically neutral countries to join NATO represents a tipping point in Europe’s strategic, geopolitical and security landscape. With Finland and Sweden joining the military alliance, NATO’s border with Russia “would double in size overnight”, according to a Washington Post analysis underlining how their ascension to NATO could alter the security of the alliance.
In addition, the analysis suggests, the Baltic Sea, a zone of tacit consent with Russia, could effectively become a NATO-patrolled lake, underscoring just how much of a geopolitical blunder the conflict had been for Russian President, Vladimir Putin: “Far from checking NATO’s eastward expansion, his invasion has only deepened Russian isolation, raised the stakes along the country’s western frontier and placed immense pressure on an already ailing economy”, states the Post’s foreign policy newsletter, Today’s World View.
However, on Wednesday, as the traditionally neutral countries from Northern Europe made the official announcement to join NATO, Turkey used its prerogative as a member to block the start of the countries’ accension talks, after the two had submitted their applications.
The ascension process, which needs unanimous approval from all members of the military alliance in order to join, had been blocked by Turkey on grounds that Sweden had kept diplomatic ties and dealings with Kurdish groups operating in Turkey and Syria and had granted asylum to members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is regarded as a terrorist organisation by both the United States and Turkey.
Following Turkey’s response, critics have raised questions about the country’s place in the alliance, as it seems increasingly likely that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is using his leverage to extract further concessions from the West.
“We are one of the countries that give the most support to the activities of the alliance, but this does not mean that we will unquestioningly say ‘yes’ to every proposal brought before us. The expansion of NATO is meaningful for us, in proportion to the respect that is shown to our sensitivities”, said Turkish President Erdogan, to members of his political party in Ankara, on Wednesday, May 18th.
Even though experts have stated that NATO members will come to an understanding and it is expected that the application will follow through, the process, expected to be a swift one, will likely be delayed, making it more complicated than it was initially intended.
On Thursday, following the official announcement of the Nordic countries to join the military alliance, US President Joe Biden welcomed the Swedish Prime Minister and the Finnish President in the Rose Garden, at the White House, where he expressed his full support for the bids of the two countries.
But, now, as NATO is experiencing its greatest strategic failure in decades, by failing to play down Putin’s rhetoric and demagogic rule, while at the same time downplaying “its own members’ capacity for collective resolve, the alliance runs the same risk of repeating the same mistake with Erdogan”, states an opinion in the Wall Street Journal.
And, ever since Russia invaded Ukraine three months ago, Turkey has played a measured, yet complex game. In the first period of the war, diplomatic talks between the two parties, Moscow and Kyiv, had been held in Ankara, though to no avail. In addition, Turkey resisted joining the plethora of Western sanctions aimed at Russia and it continued to import Russian oil. Russian travellers were also still welcome in Turkey and the government even encouraged Russian oligarchs, who had been sanctioned, to migrate their wealth into Turkey’s demising economy.
In a piece for Foreign Affairs, two political experts on Turkey stated that “Erdogan’s strategy in Ukraine … is to provide quiet military support to Kyiv even as he seeks to sustain diplomatic channels to Putin and economic profits from Russia. It is unlikely that the Russian leader will pick a fight with Turkey right now, especially if Erdogan provides him and his oligarchs with an economic lifeline”.
For the Turkish leader, though, the faster the war in Ukraine ends, the better. The dire economic situation of the country could mount political pressures and, next year, this might actually mean elections that could be competitive and challenge Erdogan’s power grab. Nevertheless, as Turkey’s economy continues to suffer, political (and, with it, economic stability) would greatly benefit Erdogan and his circle to maintain and stay in power.
Indeed, Erdogan’s other motive for blocking Finland’s and Sweden’s initial attempt of joining NATO is also a prudent one, namely grounded in the fact that such an egregious attempt of NATO expansion could also lead to an expansion of the war, from a war between Russia and Ukraine, and turn it into a war between Russia and NATO.
“Senior Turkish officials are quietly concerned that the conflict is now turning into a NATO-Russia war and that the risk of escalation is growing, fuelled by greater arms support for Ukraine and the absence of a negotiations framework. They are also disappointed with the West’s reluctance to rally behind Turkish-brokered ceasefire talks.
High-level Turkish officials have accused ‘some NATO countries’ of not wanting the war to end in order to harm Russia”, said an expert from the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Photo source: Washington Post