Erdogan renews threat to ‘freeze’ Sweden and Finland NATO bids as Turkey issues ultimatum

Expert: Turkey will eventually lift NATO 'blockade'

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Turkey, Finland and Sweden signed an accord at the NATO summit in Madrid last month to lift Ankara’s veto in exchange for pledges on counter-terrorism and arms exports – a significant step forward in Helsinki and Stockholm’s journeys toward becoming members of the North Atlantic Alliance. On Monday, however, the Turkish President said he believes Sweden was “not showing a good image” for now.

The Nordic nations decided to join NATO after decades of neutrality following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

What they expected to be a speedy process became complicated after Mr Erdogan’s claims that the two countries harbour members of Kurdish militant groups it says are terrorists.

In May, President Erdogan asked: “How can we trust them?

“Neither of these countries have a clear, open attitude towards terrorist organisation.”

His remarks were primarily directed at the militant group the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which Ankara regards as a terrorist organisation.

Sweden has a large Kurdish diaspora, with the community considered to be one of the largest outside of the Middle East.

In Finland, the Kurdish-speaking population was estimated at just over 15,000 people as of 2020 – less than one percent of the population.

Mr Erdogan accused Stockholm in particular of providing a safe haven to members of the outlawed PKK.

The president blamed NATO for its lack of support for Turkey in its battle against the PKK and other Kurdish militant groups, and accused allies of backing terrorists.

Turkey also objects to the Nordics’ decisions in 2019 to ban arms exports to Ankara over the country’s military operations in Syria.

On Monday, Mr Erdogan’s government said it will closely monitor the implementation of the accord signed in June to ratify their membership bids.

The development came as Mr Erdogan threatened to launch a new offensive in northern Syria against Kurdish militants and ahead of talks with his Russian and Iranian counterparts on the conflict in the Arab country.

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Ankara, Moscow and Tehran have in recent years met to discuss Syria as part of the so-called “Astana peace process” to end more than 11 years of conflict there.

All three are involved in Syria, with Russia and Iran supporting the Damascus regime against its opponents, and Turkey backing rebels.

The Tehran summit on Tuesday, which will be hosted by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, will also be the first meeting between Mr Erdogan and Vladimir Putin since Russia’s full-scale war on Ukraine began in late February.

The Turkish president has for months been offering to meet the Russian leader, claiming he is ready to resolve heightened global tensions since the invasion began.

Russian analyst Vladimir Sotnikov told the AFP news agency: “The timing of this summit is not a coincidence.

“Turkey wants to conduct a ‘special operation’ in Syria just as Russia is implementing a ‘special operation’ in Ukraine.”

Turkey has launched waves of attacks on Syria since 2016, targeting Kurdish militias as well as Islamic State group jihadists and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

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