Analysis: Sweden's latest tensions with Türkiye could compromise its NATO bid

ANKARA, Jan. 26 (Xinhua) -- The latest tensions between Türkiye and Sweden over recent protests in Stockholm, including the burning of a copy of the Quran, could compromise Sweden's NATO bid, analysts said.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson speaks at a press conference in Stockholm, Sweden, on Jan. 24, 2023. (File photo: Xinhua)

Sweden should not expect Türkiye's support for its NATO membership, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned on Monday, two days after a copy of the Muslim holy book was burned by far-right demonstrators in Stockholm, an act that has angered Ankara.

"Those who allow such blasphemy in front of our embassy can no longer expect our support for their NATO membership," Erdogan said after a cabinet meeting.

Sweden and Finland applied last year to join the military alliance in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Their accession to NATO needs the approval of all member states of the military alliance.

Türkiye, a NATO member, obstructed their bid and urged Sweden in particular to take a clear stance against groups it views as terrorists, mainly Kurdish militants whom Türkiye claims have found a safe haven in Sweden.

Many Turkish observers believe that Türkiye, a majority Muslim country, has shut the door to ratify the Nordic bid for a foreseeable future, at least not until the next general elections in Türkiye planned for June.

Serkan Demirtas, a foreign policy analyst and Ankara bureau chief of Hurriyet Daily News, said that the ratification document of the Nordic states would be processed by the new Turkish government after the elections, and not before.

"As far as we can see, the ratification process will not be dealt with by the current government. There are question marks on when and how it will be presented in front of lawmakers after the elections," he told Xinhua.

He said that Ankara was favorable to Finland's bid, but "there are major problems regarding Sweden's membership," and that the Turkish leadership is likely to hold a hard line on the issue until the elections.

"Ankara sees the Quran burning act, considered by Swedish authorities within the freedom of expression, as an insult to Türkiye and to Muslims. Therefore, Ankara considers that Sweden has not met with the necessary conditions to join NATO," the analyst said.

Sweden, Finland and Türkiye signed an agreement last summer that aimed at overcoming Türkiye's objections to the Nordic countries' NATO membership.

Yet Ankara repeatedly criticised Sweden for not doing enough to distance itself from suspected Kurdish militants and address pending extradition requests.

Meanwhile, at Ankara's request, a meeting between the three countries planned for early February has been postponed indefinitely, Turkish public broadcaster TRT Haber reported on Tuesday.

Yusuf Erim, an independent foreign policy expert, said that while the Turkish public opinion and lawmakers are not strongly against Finland's bid, the two Scandinavian states' bid is a joint one.

"If there was a vote in Turkish Parliament today to ratify Sweden and Finland's NATO bids separately, my best guess would be that Sweden would get rejected with an overwhelming 90-95 percent while Finland would probably get approval," he said.

"It's in Türkiye's national security interests for Sweden to become a NATO member. But Türkiye wants allies it can trust," the analyst stressed, adding that the Quran burning was the "last straw" for Ankara.

In a Twitter survey by semi-official Anadolu agency, 92.5 percent of respondents said no to Türkiye approval of Sweden's NATO bid, the news agency said Monday.

Numan Kurtulmus, deputy chairman of Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party, said Sunday that "if it goes on like this, Sweden's entry into NATO will never be approved by Türkiye."

It's now been eight months since Sweden and Finland declared their intent to join NATO and experts argue that the delay for their official membership is growing into a credibility test for the military alliance.

"The West wanted to deliver a strong message to Russia for its operation in Ukraine by accepting the two Scandinavian states as members, but now the strength and the meaning of this message have lost momentum," Demirtas said.