NATO hosts talks between Turkey, Finland and Sweden

22 June 2022

Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO in May in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. But they have faced opposition from Turkey, which has accused them of supporting and harbouring Kurdish militants and other groups it deems terrorists, as well as applying arms embargoes on Ankara.

At the invitation of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, senior officials from Turkey, Finland and Sweden met with senior NATO officials in Brussels on 20 June 2022. According to a NATO news release, Stian Jenssen, Director of the Secretary General’s Private Office, chaired the talks, which focused on the security concerns raised by Turkey. The Turkish delegation was led by Ambassador İbrahim Kalın, Presidential Spokesperson and Special Advisor to the Turkish President; the Finnish delegation was led by Petri Hakkarainen, Director of Foreign and Security Policy in the Office of the Finnish President; and the Swedish delegation was led by Oscar Stenström, State Secretary with responsibility for Foreign Affairs and the Security Policy Council, in the Office of the Swedish Prime Minister.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has welcomed Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO but said that Turkey has “legitimate security concerns over terrorism that we need to address”. (The extent to which Turkey’s security concerns are truly “legitimate” is a question that appears to have been largely overlooked).The talks followed a series of meetings in recent weeks designed to address these concerns and make progress on Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership applications. Discussions between Turkey, Finland and Sweden will continue and an alliance summit in Madrid next week is not a deadline, Turkey said after the talks. Any NATO membership requires approval of all 30 members of the alliance. Last week, Turkey said documents it received from Sweden and NATO in response to the earlier written demands it presented to the two candidates were far from meeting its expectations.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels alongside Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal, Ibrahim Kalin said Ankara was expecting Sweden to take immediate steps regarding actions by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in its country. Any progress on the Nordic membership bids "now depends on the direction and speed at which these countries will take steps," he said. Onal said Turkey expected a change of approach from Sweden and Finland, and Ankara needed "binding promises" to address its concerns. Petri Hakkarainen, the head of the Finnish delegation at the talks said the sides had made "clear progress" on certain issues. But it would take time to reach an understanding on others, he said.

Meanwhile, Sweden's 100,000-strong Kurdish community has found itself caught up in the country's biggest foreign policy decision in generations. Kurds do not have an official homeland: most live within countries in the Middle East including northern Iraq, eastern Turkey, western Iran and small portions of northern Syria and Armenia, and many of those who now live in Sweden have come from these places. Five Swedish parliamentarians are reportedly on Turkey's extradition list, including Amineh Kakabaveh, who is originally from Iran. "I've been on my guard for the last six to seven years", Kakabaveh told CNN. "If people see that I, a Member of Parliament without roots in Turkey, can be threatened, it is a problem for freedom of expression in European countries, for migrants, for asylum seekers. This is a threat against democracy. By not standing up for our rights, we contribute to other problems. Today it is Turkey's demands, tomorrow it can be another country's", she said.

Other prominent Kurdish figures thought to be on the list include 74-year-old writer and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Ragip Zarakolu, who told CNN he knows what Turkish prisons are like, having first been incarcerated there in the 1970s and most recently in 2012 for publishing works in defence of minorities -- like Kurds -- before being invited to settle in Sweden. "Calling me a terrorist. It's ridiculous. Here's my weapon", Zarakolu said, holding his pen aloft. "Does it shoot bullets? "Of course, Sweden is not going to extradite me", he added. "But it's harassment".

South-eastern Turkey has been the focus of an almost continuous armed confrontation between Turkish security forces and the PKK since 1984, punctuated by occasional ceasefires. The collapse in July 2015 of the Kurdish-Turkish peace process led to a new cycle of violence. Since then, according to the International Crisis Group there have been over 6,000 fatalities caused by this conflict – although the number of people killed since the conflict began in the 1980s is more than 40,000.