Stockholm says Sweden and Turkey’s top diplomats to meet ‘soon’ on Nato expansion

Stockholm says Sweden and Turkey’s top diplomats to meet ‘soon’ on Nato expansion
Erdogan, centre, at the Nato summit held in Madrid in June last year. / Nato
By bne IntelIiNews May 29, 2023

The foreign ministers of Sweden and Turkey will reportedly meet “soon” to discuss Stockholm’s delayed bid to join Nato.

Swedish foreign minister Tobias Billstrom initially informed broadcaster SVT on May 29 that he would meet Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu on June 1 at an Oslo gathering of Nato foreign ministers.

“But we have been informed that Turkey’s foreign minister is not coming, so there won’t be any meeting there,” Reuters on May 29 reported a spokesperson for Billstrom as saying, adding that the meeting would nevertheless take place “soon”.

Now that Turkey’s national elections have concluded—with incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan winning another five-year presidential term—advocates for Nato’s further expansion to Russia’s borders in the face of the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine will hope Ankara will move to withdraw the effective veto it has been exercising, along with Hungary, on Sweden joining the military alliance.

Analysts saw Erdogan as objecting to the planned inclusion of Sweden in Nato, partly based on his claims that the Swedes do not do enough to tackle Kurdish “terrorist” networks, as a means of portraying Turkish foreign policy independence and strength ahead of his country’s parliamentary and presidential polls. With the pressure to secure re-election now off, Erdogan could respond positively to the calls from the US and other Nato members to open the defence bloc door to Stockholm, but, on the other hand, the Turkish strongman maintains transactional relationships with both Washington and Moscow—it is also possible that he might, to the Kremlin’s satisfaction, continue to stand in the way of Swedish membership of Nato.

Billstrom portrayed optimism, telling Reuters: “I look forward to being able to shift into a higher gear and speed things up now we know what the [election] result is.”

Not surprisingly, in the wake of Erdogan’s election victory, Russian President Vladimir Putin moved fast to congratulate his “dear friend” on his election win. In his congratulatory message, Putin praised Erdogan’s efforts to “conduct an independent foreign policy” and said: “We highly appreciate your personal contribution to the strengthening of friendly Russian-Turkish relations and mutually beneficial cooperation in various areas.” 

Mike Harris, founder of advisory firm Cribstone Strategic Macro, recently told CNBC that the Turkish strongman’s extended rule was decidedly negative for the 74-year-old Nato alliance, of which Turkey has been a member since 1952.

“Putin clearly wants Nato to fragment, and Erdogan in charge increases the likelihood of Nato fragmenting,” Harris said after the Turkish presidential election’s first round in mid-May. He pointed to Erdogan’s staunch refusal to cut ties with Putin and to his frequent criticism of Western governments.

Timothy Ash, an emerging markets strategist and Turkey expert at BlueBay Asset Management, said on May 29 that if Erdogan continued to thwart a Nato expansion that takes in Sweden, the move would go against his country’s best interests.

“If Erdogan continues to stall sign off [on Swedish Nato membership], I expect a major crisis in relations with the West,” he said.

“Because of pressure on the lira I expect Erdogan to compromise on Sweden’s Nato bid,” Ash added, referring to the Turkish currency that’s shed around 80% of its value against the dollar in the past five years.

“He extracted whatever political capital he could from this [Sweden pushback] pre-election, now he has won there is only downside by delaying the inevitable,” Ash continued. “So I expect Sweden to get Nato membership at the Nato summit next month.”