Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has climbed down from blocking Swedish accession to NATO in a surprise development announced by the alliance's secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, late on Monday, the BBC reports.
Secretary General Stoltenberg, whose term was recently extended for a second year beyond its original end date of 2022, made the announcement late on Monday following discussions between the Turkish and Swedish leadership.
The news comes as a welcome foreword to the two-day NATO Vilnius Summit, which starts on Tuesday. As late as Monday, media reports had stated that Sweden's accession to NATO getting the green-light from Turkey while the summit was going on was unlikely, though Holger Mölder, associate professor of international relations at the Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech), had put the chances at about 50:50.
It also clears the way for more focus to be place on Ukraine, and possible options for a road-map to that country's future accession to NATO.
Stoltenberg called the move an "historic step", though noted "clear date" could not be given for when Sweden would join the military alliance-
This, too, relies on the actions of the Turkish legislature.
Estonia ratified Sweden and Finland's NATO membership just over a year ago; Finland formally joined the alliance in April.
Turkey, along with Hungary, had been a hold-out on Sweden's NATO ratification, ostensibly over the issue of the Scandinavian country being a "safe haven" for terrorists wanted by Turkey, including those from Kurdish groups, principally the PKK.
At the same time, Turkey's location and relationship with Russia have meant that it has played what the BBC calls a unique role since the February 2022 invasion, for instance in brokering, and keeping alive, a deal which enables Ukraine to export grain and other produce from its Black Sea ports – those which have not been occupied by Russia.
Stockholm for its part has amended the Constitution, made legislative amendments, expanded its counter-terrorism operations and halted a ban on arms exports to Turkey.
As for Hungary, Stoltenberg said that Budapest "has made it clear that they will not be the last to ratify".
"I think that problem will be resolved," he added.
Orban's Hungary had apparently been upset by what it saw as Swedish criticism of the workings of democracy in the central European nation.
Glad to announce that after the meeting I hosted with @RTErdogan & @SwedishPM, President Erdogan has agreed to forward #Sweden's accession protocol to the Grand National Assembly ASAP & ensure ratification. This is an historic step which makes all #NATO Allies stronger & safer. pic.twitter.com/D7OeR5Vgba— Jens Stoltenberg (@jensstoltenberg) July 10, 2023
U.S. President Joe Biden welcomed Monday night's news, urging Ankara to move forward with a "swift ratification"
Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said: "I am very happy, this is a good day for Sweden."
The country's foreign minister, Tobias Billström, stated fairly peremptorily that: "We have tonight after some negotiations in Vilnius reached an agreement with Turkey on Sweden's membership in NATO, which means that ratification will now commence."
We have tonight after some negotiations in Vilnius reached an agreement with Türkiye on Sweden's membership in NATO, which means that ratification will now commence.— Tobias Billström (@TobiasBillstrom) July 10, 2023
The PM and the President have shook hands on the content. https://t.co/nqDg8Is0Y5 pic.twitter.com/1rzRBDJYJu
German Foreign Minister Annalen Baerbock and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak were among other leaders heralding the news.
Earlier on Monday, the breakthrough seemed out of reach as Turkish President Erdogan presented renewed EU membership talks for Turkey as a quid pro quo for lifting the obstruction on Swedish succession to NATO, a call which EU officials rejected on the grounds of the issues and the organizations being completely separate.
At the same time, NATO said Sweden would actively support efforts to "reinvigorate Turkey's EU accession process."
Turkey, which has in recent years purchased S-400 missiles from Russia, has recently angered the Kremlin by supplying armed drones to Ukraine and by permitting five former commanders of the Ukrainian garrison at Mariupol imprisoned in Turkey to fly back home, whereas Russia had expected the men to remain in Turkey until the end of the war.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has himself said he does not expect membership until after the war - but he wants the summit to give a "clear signal" on Ukraine's bid.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov issued a threat Monday over any potential Ukrainian membership of NATO which, he said, would lead to "negative consequences for the entire security architecture, which is half destroyed as it is in Europe".
Ukrainian membership would "represent an absolute danger, threat to our country, one which will require of us a quite firm and clear reaction", Peskov went on.
Estonian foreign minister: Crucial development
Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna (Eesti 200) also gave an interview to Qatar-based Al Jazeera in which he expressed hope that Monday night's announcement would translate to Sweden becoming a NATO member in actuality.
Tsahkna told Al Jazeera that: "I do believe that President Erodgan is keeping his word, of course, we're now waiting for a rapid ratification process from Turkey."
"It is very crucial for Estonia as well as our region that Sweden will become a full member of NATO because the Baltic Sea will now be the internal sea of NATO," Tsahkna went on, reiterating that while talk of Turkey re-commencing EU accession negotiations, something first touted in 1987, 17 years before Estonia became a member, was welcome, this referred to a different organization and would have to be treated separately.
Gave an interview to @baysontheroad in @AJEnglish TV news. Talked about #Sweden's accession to @NATO. Here are my thoughts!— Margus Tsahkna (@Tsahkna) July 11, 2023
Sweden's accession is crucial for Estonia: Minister https://t.co/SeYxgTFWVZ via @AJEnglish
Turkey joined NATO in 1952, during the Cold War and off the back of the Turkish Brigade's participation on the UN side in the 1950-1953 Korean War. That brigade's commander, Gen., Tahsin Yazıcı, was decorated with the U.S. Silver Star, while his soldiers in the conflict had a reputation for toughness and self-reliance.
Turkey's geo-political location was also a key factor in accession.
In 2004, Turkey invoked Article 4 of the NATO treaty, which refers to consultation among NATO members states, at the start of the 2003 Iraq War, and tice during the later Syrian Civil War.
Editor's note: This article was updated to include comment from Margus Tsahkna.
Editor: Andrew Whyte
Source: BBC, ERR