Turkey Is Still Holding Sweden’s NATO Bid Hostage

Turkey Is Still Holding Sweden’s NATO Bid Hostage
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson speak to the media in Ankara, Turkey, Nov. 8, 2022 (AP photo by Burhan Ozbilici).

A diplomatic row between Sweden and Turkey escalated this week when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Sweden that it should not expect Ankara’s backing to join NATO, after protesters burned the Quran outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm last week. Erdogan’s remarks could further complicate the Scandinavian country’s bid to join the defensive alliance, and NATO officials have been scrambling all week to defuse the tensions. Sweden applied to join NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022—as did Finland, its neighbor to the east.

Sweden requires the unanimous approval of all 30 NATO members in order to join, with Turkey and Hungary the only NATO members that have yet to ratify its accession. Though Turkey insists it has no objection to the merits of Sweden’s accession bid, Erdogan appears bent on using the leverage afforded to him by the requirement for unanimous consent to extract concessions from Stockholm. Ankara’s demands include the extradition of Kurds who have claimed asylum in Sweden, but who Turkey has branded as terrorists. Recognizing the need to win Turkey’s approval, Sweden was left with little choice but to distance itself from Kurdish groups like the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, a decision that in turn enraged many Swedes. The YPG and its political branch, the PYD, are widely considered to be Syrian extensions of the Turkish Kurdish Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which launched an insurgency against Ankara in the 1980s and is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey as well as the United States and the European Union.

Protests against Ankara’s position have broken out on the streets of Stockholm this month, with the demonstrators falling into three categories: Kurds who say they are being used as pawns on a geopolitical chessboard; Swedes who oppose making concessions to Turkey; and far-right groups that oppose an alliance with Turkey because it is a Muslim-majority country. It is the latter group that has now inflamed tensions between Ankara and Stockholm, after Rasmus Paludan—a Danish politician with links to Swedish far-right parties backing the current right-wing government elected last year—burned the Quran outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm during protests on Jan. 21.  

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article as well as three free articles per month. You'll also receive our free email newsletter to stay up to date on all our coverage:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having your own personal researcher and analyst for news and events around the globe. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of 15,000+ articles
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday
  • Weekly in-depth reports on important issues and countries
  • Daily links to must-read news, analysis, and opinion from top sources around the globe, curated by our keen-eyed team of editors
  • Your choice of weekly region-specific newsletters, delivered to your inbox.
  • Smartphone- and tablet-friendly website.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.

More World Politics Review