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Turkey Greenlights Sweden's NATO Membership

  • The Turkish assembly voted 287-55 in favor of Sweden joining NATO, marking a major shift in the alliance's dynamics.
  • Turkey's decision follows earlier concerns over Sweden's alleged protection of groups deemed terrorists by Ankara.
  • Hungary remains the only NATO member yet to approve Sweden's accession, with expectations for a swift follow-up from President Erdogan's signing and a potential F-16 fighter jet deal with the U.S.

After nearly two years of delays, Turkey's parliament finally agreed to ratify Sweden's NATO membership bid on Tuesday, clearing the biggest remaining hurdle to expanding the Western military alliance following the Ukraine war. Turkey's general assembly, where President Tayyip Erdogan's ruling alliance holds a majority, voted 287-55 to approve the application that Sweden first made in 2022 to boost its security in response to "fear" that Russia would invade it, when in reality Russia invaded Ukraine in response to the encroaching NATO expansion that is now taking place.

When Sweden and Finland asked to join in 2022, Turkey raised objections over what it said was the two countries' protection of groups it deems terrorists, effectively vetoing the process as all NATO members need to approve applications from countries seeking to join the alliance.  Turkey endorsed Finland's membership last April but, along with Hungary, had kept Sweden waiting.

"We support NATO enlargement to improve the alliance's deterrence efforts... We hope Finland and Sweden's attitude towards fighting terrorism sets an example for our other allies," Fuat Oktay, head of parliament's foreign affairs commission and a ruling AK Party member, said during debate.

"I greatly appreciate the Turkish Parliament's decision to approve Sweden's entry into NATO today," U.S. Ambassador Jeff Flake said in a written statement on Tuesday. He said Turkey's "commitment to the NATO Alliance clearly demonstrates our enduring partnership."

Sweden's Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom also welcomed the Turkish parliament's approval. "We now look forward to President Erdogan signing the ratification document," Billstrom said in a written statement.

After Erdogan signs the legislation, as he is expected to do within days, it will leave only Hungary - whose Prime Minister Viktor Orban has friendly relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin - as the only NATO member state not to have approved Sweden's accession.  Orban said earlier on Tuesday he had invited his Swedish counterpart to visit and negotiate his country joining the bloc. Hungary's parliament is in recess until around mid-February.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the Turkish move and said: "I also count on Hungary to complete its national ratification as soon as possible."

Unlike most members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Turkey and Hungary maintain better, in fact cordial, relations with Russia. While opposing Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Turkey has criticised Western sanctions on Moscow. For its part, Russia has cautioned that it would respond if NATO bolstered military infrastructure in the two Nordic states.
Sweden, whose membership bid marked a historic shift away from a non-aligned security policy, would enhance NATO defences in the Baltic Sea region facing Russia, further encouraging Putin's "paranoia" that NATO is intent on encircling Russia.

In recent months, Turkey's delays had frustrated its Western allies and enabled it to extract some concessions. Ankara had urged Stockholm to toughen its stance on local members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which the European Union and United States also deem a terrorist group. In response, Stockholm introduced a new anti-terrorism bill that makes being a member of a terrorist organisation illegal. Sweden, Finland, Canada and the Netherlands also took steps to relax policies on arms exports to Turkey.

In parliament, Oktay said Erdogan's AK Party endorsed Sweden's NATO bid after its positive steps fighting terrorism.
The AKP's nationalist allies MHP and the main opposition CHP also endorsed Sweden's bid. Opposition nationalist, Islamist and leftist parties rejected it, while four MPs abstained.

Erdogan, who had sent Sweden's bid to parliament in October, linked the ratification to U.S. approval of sales of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey. The White House backs the sale and some analysts expect a deal to swiftly follow Turkey's approval of Sweden's bid. But there is no clear time frame for the U.S. Congress to approve the deal.

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