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Turkey ratifies Sweden’s NATO membership bid

Turkey’s parliament has ratified Sweden’s NATO membership after more than a year of delays that upset Western efforts to show resolve in the face of Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Politicians voted 287-55 in favour of the Nordic nation’s bid to become the 32nd member of the alliance after it won the public backing of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Turkish leader is expected to sign Sweden’s ratification document and conclude Ankara’s role in the protracted saga in the coming days.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said Sweden had now taken a step closer to full membership of NATO.

He wrote on X: “Today we are one step closer to becoming a full member of NATO.

“Positive that the Grand General Assembly of Turkiye has voted in favour of Sweden’s NATO accession.”

NATO chief Kens Stoltenberg welcomed the Turkish parliament’s decision, and called on Hungary to follow suit.

Turkish politicians voted 287-55 in favour of Sweden’s NATO membership bid

He said: “I also count on Hungary to complete its national ratification as soon as possible.

“All NATO allies agreed (at the summit) in Vilnius to invite Sweden to join our alliance, and Sweden has fulfilled its commitments. Sweden’s membership makes NATO stronger and all of us safer.”

Turkey’s green light leaves Hungary as the last holdout in an accession process that Sweden and Finland began in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nearly two years ago.

Ankara forced the northern neighbours to split up their applications after finding fault with Sweden and approving Finland after a few rounds of talks.

Finland’s membership last April doubled the length of NATO’s border with Russia and boosted the defences of three tiny Baltic nations that joined the bloc following the collapse of the former Soviet Union.

Sweden and Finland pursued a policy of military non-alignment during the Cold War era between the Soviet Union and the West.

But the Ukraine war upturned geopolitical calculations and forced the two to seek the nuclear protection afforded by the world’s most powerful defence bloc.

Today we are one step closer to becoming a full member of NATO. Positive that the Grand General Assembly of Türkiye has voted in favour of Sweden’s NATO accession.

— SwedishPM (@SwedishPM) January 23, 2024

Hungary has followed Turkey’s lead throughout the NATO accession process and was expected to approve Sweden’s without significant resistance.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban invited his Swedish counterpart to Budapest to discuss the bid.

But hints of strains have emerged between Stockholm and Budapest.

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said he saw “no reason” to negotiate with Hungary about Stockholm’s NATO candidacy “at this point”.

Mr Orban and Mr Erdogan have maintained good rapports with Russian President Vladimir Putin throughout the Ukraine war.

NATO leaders had feared that the Kremlin was trying to use the two mercurial leaders, both regular visitors to Moscow, to seed divisions in the West.

The bloc’s commanders have cast the latest round of expansion as a show of Western resolve in the face of Russia’s aggression.

Demand for US jets

Mr Erdogan’s objections to Sweden’s bid initially focused on Stockholm’s perceived acceptance of Kurdish groups that Ankara views as “terrorist”.

Sweden responded by tightening its anti-terrorism legislation and taking other security steps demanded by Mr Erdogan.

But Mr Erdogan then turned his gaze on an unmet US pledge to deliver a batch of F-16 fighter jets that has met resistance in Congress because of Turkey’s perceived backsliding on human rights and standoffs with fellow NATO member Greece.

Turkey also wants Canada to follow through on its promise to lift a ban on the sale of a key component used for making combat drones.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Turkey over two visits in the past three months that the Swedish candidacy’s ratification could help break congressional resistance to the F-16 sale.

“We have not parsed words about how ready we are for Sweden to formally join the alliance,” deputy State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said after news emerged yesterday that Turkey was on the verge of finally voting on Sweden’s candidacy.

Turkish opposition politician Cengiz Candar said during the ratification debate that Turkey’s leaders had “blackmailed” their Western partners during the drawn out negotiation process.

“Turkey violated three pillars of foreign policy: predictability, credibility and consistency,” he said before voting for the bid.

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