Four months into the Russian-initiated war in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has just received a monumental slap in the face in the form of a major strategic defeat – beyond the military setbacks on the ground that since February 24 have revealed the limits of the Kremlin army. On the first evening of the summit of the thirty member countries of NATO (June 28-30) in Madrid, Spain, Turkey lifted its veto on the entry of Sweden and Finland into the Atlantic Alliance. This volte-face produces the opposite of what the Russian president had hoped for – and demanded – before the start of his “special operation” in Ukraine.
In December, Moscow formulated in writing a project aimed at obtaining “reliable and long-term security guarantees”. Among the “red lines” not to be crossed, according to Putin, was the enlargement of NATO to Ukraine. On December 24, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova specified that “if Finland and Sweden joined NATO, a military structure primarily focused on aggressive actions and not on defence, it would be serious military and political consequences that would require an adequate response from Russia.” Far from having a deterrent effect on the two Nordic countries – whose tradition of neutrality has long kept them away from NATO – the Russian invasion of Ukraine has had the opposite effect: it has decided to join the collective defense organization.
But by vetoing these candidacies last month – any enlargement of NATO requires the approval of all of its members – the Turkish president created a Hitchcockian suspense effect. Yesterday he changed his mind. Through this six-week sequence, Recep Tayyip Erdogan reminded the world, once again, of the major geopolitical importance of his country. De facto, Turkey has already been involved in the conflict in Ukraine since its outbreak at the end of February. To begin with, from the beginning of the war it provided the famous Bayraktar TB-2 drones which enabled Ukraine to stop the first Russian offensives in kyiv and Kharkiv.
Ankara also applied, in February, the Montreux Convention (dating from 1936) which governs access to the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits, preventing the access of Russian warships to the Black Sea, in accordance with what the ‘Ukraine. “We have decided to use the Montreux Convention in such a way as to prevent the escalation of the crisis,” Erdogan then justified, specifying, with skill: “We will not abandon either Russia or Ukraine and we will not give in nor on national interests. For their part, the United States, which has a geomilitary reading of the world, still considers Turkey as a main ally within NATO because of the size of its army, the historical rivalry between the two former Ottoman empires and Russian and the vital importance of the American air base of Incirlik located in the south of Anatolia.
Last month, former White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien was confident about Turkey’s final decision on Sweden and Finland: ” Turkey, which is an important member of NATO, must continue to play a constructive role vis-à-vis the war in Ukraine, he told L’Express, but there is still a lot of diplomatic work to be done. so that Ankara aligns itself with the choice of the other NATO capitals and, thus, allow the enlargement to Sweden and Finland. I think that this will eventually happen because, otherwise, the calculation would be negative for Turkey. That would mean that Europe would move away from this country, which would find itself isolated. This would be problematic for Erdogan, given the economic situation of his country and the Russian and Iranian threats which still weigh latently on Turkey.
On Tuesday evening, Turkey therefore lifted the blockage it was imposing on Stockholm and Helsinki in the context of a future NATO enlargement. The other point of view ? The Foreign Ministers of Sweden, Finland and Turkey signed a memorandum which sets the framework for relations between the three countries. It satisfies several requirements of Ankara. The two Nordic countries notably acknowledge in writing that they consider the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to be a terrorist organization. In fact, the PKK is already considered as such by a large part of the international community, including the American State Department and the European Union. But Sweden is home to the largest Kurdish community in the world outside the Kurdistan region. And PKK sympathizers do not hesitate to use the great freedom of expression that exists in this country to criticize the Turkish state. This is the origin of the many frictions between Stockholm and Ankara.
Sweden and Finland also confirm in writing that they will strengthen their fight against terrorism (read: against the PKK) and will study the extradition requests in progress with regard to Turkish nationals opposed to Erdogan. This does not mean that Nordic governments are about to announce extraditions. As Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Linde recalled on national radio this Wednesday morning, “Swedish justice acts independently”. One of the most important concessions from Stockholm is actually the end of the arms sales embargo decided in 2019. Following the Turkish military offensive in Syria against the Kurdish fighters of the YPG (affiliate to the PKK), Sweden, which has a large military industry, had decided to cease all arms trade with Turkey. Stockholm is therefore reconsidering this decision which, in any case, could not have been maintained within the framework of its integration into NATO.
In the end, nine of the articles of the trilateral memorandum signed on Tuesday concern, directly or indirectly, the Kurds of the PKK and the YPG, thus offering a political and symbolic victory to Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But the tenth and last article represents a Nordic victory. “Turkey confirms its support for NATO’s Open Door policy and supports the invitation made to Finland and Sweden at the Madrid 2022 summit to become a member of the Atlantic Alliance.” In a few weeks, it will grow from 30 to 32 members. And, whatever the recent military successes of Russia in Ukraine, neither Vladimir Putin nor his entourage can congratulate themselves.