Estonia's leaders have welcomed a vote at the Turkish parliament on Tuesday which gave the green light to Sweden joining NATO, following many months of anticipation and delays. Hungary is now the only member state still to be holding out on the matter.
The parliament in Ankara voted 287 to 55 in favor, and since Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan (pictured), has already backed Sweden's membership, he is widely expected to give his formal consent, Bloomberg reports.
Sweden applied to join NATO at the same time as Finland, in May 2022, but while Finnish membership became a reality last summer, Turkey, along with Hungary, remained a hold-out on the process of making the entire Scandinavian peninsula NATO territory.
The alliance's long-serving secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said: "I welcome the vote by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey to ratify Sweden's membership in NATO."
"I also count on Hungary to complete its national ratification as soon as possible," Secretary General Stoltenberg added.
Estonia's president, Alar Karis, welcomed via a tweet the "Long-awaited decision from Turkey's Parliament to support Sweden joining NATO. We are significantly closer to enhancing U.S. and transatlantic security, and forming the Baltic Sea into a NATO Sea. All eyes [are] on Hungary now, waiting for Sweden to join as soon as possible."
Long-awaited decision from #Türkiye's Parliament to support #Sweden joining NATO. We are significantly closer to enhancing US/transatlantic security & forming the Baltic Sea into a NATO Sea. All eyes on Hungary now, waiting for Sweden to join as soon as possible.— Alar Karis (@AlarKaris) January 23, 2024
Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) tweeted that: "The Parliament of Turkey has agreed to ratify Sweden's NATO membership. It's an important decision for Sweden to become the 32nd NATO ally."
On its social media account, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Estonia also heralded the "Long awaited and immensely important decision by Turkey, which is paving way for NATO becoming stronger than ever."
Sweden's own prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, also noted that: "Today we are one step closer to becoming a full member of NATO," after the news broke, and the U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan made a statement that Sweden's membership is a priority for President Joe Biden, adding that "joining NATO is in the national security interests of the U.S., and will make the alliance safer and stronger."
Jeff Flake, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, hailed the vote in a message posted on Twitter, or X as it is now known, as a "great move for Sweden, Turkey and all of NATO."
Once President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has signed off on the accession documentation, this can be deposited with the U.S. State Department in Washington.
Sweden's full accession would end an oft-cited formal position of neutrality stretching back over 200 years and including the period of both world wars, though in practice Sweden and Finland had been partnering on exercise with NATO members and in other ways, for several years and well ahead of the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
Turkey's move in any case ends many months of delays, particularly over the issue of Sweden's granting residency or asylum to supporters of separatist groups outlawed in Turkey, including the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, designated a terrorist organization by the EU and U.S. alike.
The U.S. has made Turkey's approval of Swedish accession to NATO a prerequisite for the sale of 40 F-16 jets and a further 79 kits, as part of Ankara's modernization of its air force. Turkey is now likely to expect the U.S. to move forward with the aircraft sale, Bloomberg says.
As for Hungary, the Viktor Orban administration has cited Sweden's criticism of democratic backsliding in Budapest as one reason for the dragging of the heels.
While Budapest has suggested a courtesy call by Sweden's leader could help get things moving, Sweden's Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom told reporters there is "no reason to negotiate" with the Hungarian government, though "the central thing for us is to continue to have a good and constructive dialogue with Budapest."
Orban has invited Prime Minister Kristersson to Hungary "to exchange views on all issues of common interest," Bloomberg reports.
Sweden joining NATO would make the Baltic Sea, once actually a lake, a figurative "NATO lake" given that every country bar one with a shoreline on that sea would be a member of the alliance.
Editor: Andrew Whyte