ISTANBUL — Turkey will oppose Sweden and Finland joining NATO, the country’s president flatly stated in a video released Thursday.
“We have told our relevant friends we would say ‘no’ to Finland and Sweden’s entry into NATO, and we will continue on our path like this,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a group of Turkish youth in the video for Commemoration of Atatürk, Youth and Sports Day, a national holiday.
Turkey’s approval of Finland and Sweden’s application to join the Western military alliance is crucial because NATO makes decisions by consensus. Each of its 30 member countries has the power to veto a membership bid.
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Erdogan has said Turkey’s objection stems from grievances with Sweden’s – and to a lesser degree with Finland’s – perceived support of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and an armed group in Syria that Turkey sees as an extension of the PKK. The conflict with the PKK has killed tens of thousands of people since 1984.
Turkey also accuses Sweden and Finland of harboring the followers of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim cleric whom the Turkish government blames for 2016 military coup attempt.
A full recording of Erdogan’s conversation with the youth for the holiday that marks the beginning of the Turkish War of Independence in 1919 is expected to be released Thursday night. It was not immediately clear when the conversation took place.
In the remarks made available earlier Thursday, Erdogan accused the two prospective NATO members and especially Sweden of being “a focus of terror, home to terror.” He accused them of giving financial and weapons support to the armed groups, and claimed the countries’ alleged links to terror organizations meant they should not be part of the trans-Atlantic alliance.
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Turkish officials, including the president, also have pointed to arms restrictions on Turkey as a reason for Ankara’s opposition to the two countries becoming part of NATO.
Several European countries, including Sweden and Finland, restricted arms exports to Turkey following the country’s cross-border operation into northeast Syria in 2019 with the stated goal of clearing the border area of Kurdish militants.
Turkey says the Syrian Kurdish People’s Defense Units, or YPG, is directly linked to the PKK, and Ankara was frustrated by American support for them in fighting the Islamic State group.