In recent weeks, various representatives of NATO and of Joe Biden’s American administration have shown optimism regarding the possibility that Sweden, after months of waiting, can finally join the Atlantic Alliance. Many expect a solution to the issue to be reached by the summer, after the procedure, which started a year ago, had been blocked for a long time due to the lack of approval by Hungary and especially Turkey.
The stated goal of NATO summits is to complete Sweden’s entry into the organization before the scheduled July 11-12 summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. NATO would thus complete an expansion considered historic, following the entry of Finland on 4 April. The two countries should have joined together, but the procedures were separated precisely because of the persistent opposition of Turkey, which accuses the Swedish government of supporting and welcoming members of some Kurdish organizations, in particular of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which Turkey (as well as most Western countries) considers it a terrorist organization.
Negotiations between Sweden and Turkey, under supervision and pressure from the United States, have continued and may currently be at a turning point. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would seem to have softened his positions after his recent re-election for a third term and after a telephone conversation with the US president, in which there was also talk of a possible purchase of F-16 fighters by Turkey right from the United States.
Sweden, on the other hand, approved a new anti-terrorism law at the end of May, which inserts the crime of “participation in a terrorist group”, previously absent from its legislation: the law goes in the direction requested by the Turkish government. Its approval also caused protests, including a demonstration of several hundred people who marched in Stockholm with banners and flags in support of the Kurdish people.
In recent days, the Swedish Supreme Court has also approved the extradition of a Turkish citizen who declared himself a supporter of the PKK but who must serve a sentence for possession of drugs. Mehmet Kokulu was sentenced in 2014 to 4 years and 7 months in prison for possession of 1.8 kilograms of marijuana, he had served about half of his sentence and was released on bail. After a few years he emigrated to Sweden, where in August he was arrested at the request of the Turkish government which officially wants him to finish serving his sentence: according to the man’s lawyers, however, the Turkish judiciary wants to indict him for some posts on social media, in which he had been critical of the president, and of his support for the PKK.
The extradition will still have to be approved by the Swedish parliament, but it is remarkable that the Supreme Court, which has blocked similar cases in the past, has this time agreed to extradition.
Precisely the non-extradition of Turkish citizens who the Turkish government believes are affiliated with terrorist organizations was at the basis of the non-approval of Sweden’s entry into NATO.
Finland and Sweden a few months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine had decided to abandon decades of neutrality, which lasted throughout the Cold War, to apply for NATO membership. In June 2022 they had obtained the official invitation from the thirty countries of the alliance and within a few weeks most of these had ratified their entry. The NATO regulation provides that entry must be approved unanimously: Hungary and Turkey had postponed the decision, which should have passed through a parliamentary debate. In both cases, however, the polemical target of the Turkish and Hungarian governments was above all Sweden. And the real opposition was that of Turkey: negotiations with Hungary were simpler.
After rather lengthy negotiations and some hesitation, it was finally agreed that Finland would be admitted to NATO immediately, and that Sweden would wait.
However, Sweden’s entry is considered particularly strategic and can no longer be postponed for the military organisation, which is experiencing a recovery phase after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Sweden has been collaborating militarily with NATO since 2014, entry as a full member would complete the military coverage of Northern Europe and the Baltic Sea. The eastern flank of the Atlantic alliance and in particular the so-called “Suwalki gap” which connects Lithuania and Poland are considered to be NATO’s weak points at a military level. Sweden is key in terms of logistical support and has a substantial naval military base, including a fleet of five attack submarines that have been specifically designed to operate in the Baltic Sea.
Sweden has also already allocated 2 percent of GDP (gross domestic product) to military spending in the current budget, as requested by the alliance. It has the largest military industry in Northern Europe and once it joins the alliance it should be part of a project that aims to create a joint air force between various countries in Northern Europe.
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