Turkey moves towards approving Sweden’s bid to join Nato

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Turkey’s parliament is set to vote on Sweden’s accession to Nato on Tuesday, in a sign that the Scandinavian country may soon clear a vital hurdle in its long-fought bid to join the western military alliance. 

Lawmakers are scheduled to debate the issue in a general assembly session on Tuesday afternoon, with a vote expected shortly afterwards.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed to approve Sweden’s Nato accession in July, but the process has been beset by delays, which have driven a wedge between Ankara and its western allies.

Turkey and Hungary are the only Nato members that have not yet backed Sweden’s request to join the alliance, which was made in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Washington and Brussels have lobbied Ankara and Budapest for months to ratify Sweden’s accession to Nato as a signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin that the alliance, which has underpinned European security since the cold war, stands united against Moscow’s aggression.

Sweden’s military chief and prime minister have both directly warned Swedes this year to be prepared for war, comments that have drawn admiration from some and criticism for fear-mongering from others.

Finland, which shares a 1,340km border with Russia, joined Nato last April as the group’s 31st member.

Hungary is broadly expected to follow Turkey’s lead on ratifying Sweden’s accession. Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s prime minister, said on Tuesday that he would invite his Swedish counterpart Ulf Kristersson “for a visit to Hungary to negotiate on Sweden’s Nato accession”.

Orbán has been at odds with Swedish politicians who have often criticised Budapest for unwinding democratic checks and balances and accused his regime of rampant corruption — charges that Orbán has rejected and said were unfriendly from a possible military ally.

But Budapest has also relied on Swedish technology in its armed forces, maintaining a fleet of Swedish-made Gripen fighter jets.

Turkey, which has been a Nato member since 1952, has retained strong ties with Russia even as its western partners have shunned the country. It has, for example, boosted trade with Russia since the beginning of the Ukraine war and also declined to join up to western sanctions.

Turkey’s parliament is controlled by Erdoğan’s political coalition, meaning analysts expect that lawmakers will agree to Sweden’s accession to Nato once it comes up for a vote. Erdoğan must still sign the ratification protocol once parliament approves the measure.

Erdoğan has said he expects the US to agree to Turkey’s request to buy billions of dollars’ worth of F-16 fighter jets in return for approval of Stockholm’s bid. 

The Biden administration has been supportive of the arms deal but some members of the US Senate’s powerful foreign relations committee have expressed concerns over issues including Turkey’s turbulent relationship with Greece, which has begun to improve since Erdoğan travelled to Athens late last year.

Ankara has also demanded that Stockholm steps up its fight against a Kurdish militant group that has fought a decades-long insurgency in Turkey. A series of measures passed by Sweden including a new anti-terrorism law that went into effect last year have helped assuage Turkey’s concerns, according to Turkish officials and diplomats.

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