BY ZEYNEP GURCANLI
In connection with the Ukraine war, Sweden and Finland applied for membership in NATO. Turkey then stated that it would VETO the accessions.
On the hidden agenda, there is the diplomatic arm wrestling between Turkey and the US.
There are two critical dates for the conflict; the end of June and beginning of September.
Both Washington and European countries want to initiate the membership processes of Sweden and Finland and bring the leaders of these two countries to the table at the NATO summit that will be held in Madrid at the end of June.
However, this plan contradicts the statements made by President Erdogan that the AK Party government will “veto” the membership applications of Sweden and Finland. All diplomacy on the Western front is focused on convincing Turkey by the end of June and paving the way for membership.
The demands put forward by Ankara to retract the veto can be divided into two main themes:
ARMS EMBARGO AND TERRORIST SUPPORT
The first is the lifting of some public and some secret arms embargoes that Western countries have placed on Turkey, along with the allowance of Turkish Armed Forces’ operations in northern Syria. According to Western diplomats, this is a condition that can be fulfilled relatively easily.
As a matter of fact, England, which is among the countries that imposed sanctions, has taken the lead, in a sense, by removing all restrictions on defense industry exports to Turkey. It has spoken in the diplomatic lobby that Ankara’s stance can be softened if Sweden and Finland, which are among the countries that have imposed sanctions on Turkey, follow these steps taken by England and lift the restrictions.
In the fight against terrorism, Finland and Sweden are considered separately by diplomats; Since Finland has no visible support for terrorist organizations, Ankara is expected to lift its veto on this country’s membership ahead of the NATO summit in Madrid. Recent statements by the AK Party government have taken a softer tone towards Finland, and this reinforces this expectation.
Sweden’s situation is much more troubling; Sweden officially recognizes the PKK as a terrorist organization – as it is on the terrorist list of all EU members and the US. However, things change when it comes to PKK-related organizations or structures with different names. In Sweden, there are influential groups that see the PKK terrorist organization and its affiliates as “freedom fighters” rather than terrorists and make propaganda for it. Moreover, Sweden will go to elections in September. It seems difficult for the current government to ignore these active lobbies and fulfill Turkey’s demands in the fight against terrorism when the elections are only months away.
This leads me to the second key date for Turkey’s veto in September. After the Swedish elections, a new page will be opened between Ankara and whatever new government is formed, and it is believed that the lifting of the veto on this country’s NATO membership may be in the fall.
HIDDEN AGENDA; TURKEY-US SHOWDOWN
These are the visible aspects of diplomatic negotiations. In the hidden part, the showdown between Ankara and Washington has reached a remarkable level.
While Ankara accuses Sweden of supporting the PKK-affiliated PYD -YPG organization in northern Syria, the main pressure on Turkey in this regard came from the USA. The Washington administration has exempted the areas under the control of the PYD-YPG from US sanctions on Syria, known as the Caesar’s law.
With the USA taking such a big step, the current government in Sweden has tended to refer this issue to Washington instead of discussing the PYD -YPG issue with Ankara.
But the Biden administration – for the time being – appears to be reluctant to negotiate directly with Ankara over Turkey’s NATO veto. This is indicated by the announcement that US President Biden is not planning a face-to-face or phone meeting with Erdogan, meaning that Foreign Minister Blinken will meet his Turkish counterpart, Çavuşoğlu, in a more “informal” format in New York instead of hosting them in Washington.
CHANGING BALANCES IN SYRIA
The Syrian issue, which has not come to the fore in foreign policy for a long time, is heating up again, while the Ukraine war and NATO enlargement ostensibly occupy the entire agenda. Russia, which could not get what it wanted in the Ukraine war, quietly reduced its military presence in Syria and moved it to Ukraine. There are reports from northern Syria that pro-Iranian militias and PYD-YPG elements supported by the USA have begun to replace the Russians. It is stated by local sources that the USA has started to repair and expand the bases in Membiç and Ayn Al Arab, which it emptied about two years ago.
The Syria issue will likely bring Ankara and Washington directly into confrontation in the near future. Ankara is on full alert.