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Finland and Sweden might join NATO in a separate stage

The accession paths of Finland and Sweden to NATO - North Atlantic Treaty Organization - might continue on two different tracks, due to the obstructionism of Turkey led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The two Scandinavian states submitted their application for membership in May last year, a few months after the Russian Federation's invasion of Ukraine.

Finland's foreign ministerPekka Haavisto, left, Sweden's Foreign Minister Ann Linde, right, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg attend a media conference after the signature of the NATO Accession Protocols for Finland and Sweden in the NATO headquarters in Brussels, July 5, 2022. (Olivier Matthys, AP)

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said during a press conference on Tuesday that «it is not excluded that Sweden and Finland will ratify in different steps» and added that the probability of this scenario occurring has increased in recent weeks. Kristersson's fears seem confirmed by the announcement of Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, who on Wednesday said he would meet Turkish President Erdogan on Friday, in a meeting that is seen as a preamble to the Turkish parliament's vote to ratify the entry of Finland into NATO.

Türkiye has so far blocked the accession of the two Scandinavian countries to NATO, which requires the affirmative vote of the parliaments of all 30 countries that are part of the military alliance. The reason for the Turkish obstructionism concerns the support of Sweden and Finland to Kurdish political groups, in particular the PKK and the YPG. The PKK (Partîya Karkerén Kurdîstan, Kurdistan Workers' Party) is considered by the European Union, the United States, and by Türkiye itself as a terrorist organization, although the definition is much debated.

The Kurds are an Indo-European ethnic group (numbering around 40 million) and constitute the largest ethnic group in the world without a state of their own. Their homeland is currently divided between Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. In Finland and especially in Sweden there are large communities of Kurdish people.

A map of areas where Kurdish people have historically established their population. (The Kurdish Project)

Although the Swedish government has taken legislative steps to reassure Türkiye - including the approval of a bill aimed at banning participation in terrorist organizations - Erdogan's government has continued to hinder the accession process due to Sweden’s refusal to extradite some Kurdish politicians.

An episode that took place in January particularly exacerbated the tension. A Danish far-right politician burned a copy of the Quran in Stockholm near the Turkish embassy, prompting Turkish President Erdoğan to say his country would support Finland's candidacy, but not Sweden's.

Finnish President Niinisto, however, said on Wednesday that when he meets Erdogan he will advocate for Sweden. «It is very important for Finland that both Finland and Sweden become members of NATO as soon as possible. I will continue my work to support Sweden's NATO membership,»  he said.

Western officials hope that the Turkish parliament will ratify Sweden's NATO membership at least after the presidential elections in May. Several political analysts believe that Erdogan chose to procrastinate to show himself intransigent and to obtain a return in terms of electoral consensus. Elections in Türkiye will be held on May 14, and it is the first time in 20 years that Erdogan's victory seems to be in doubt.

Opposition candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is confident he can unfreeze European Union accession talks and end Ankara's veto on NATO membership for Sweden and Finland, if he beats President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the hotly contested upcoming elections, according to Politico.

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