Russia’s invasion of Ukraine forced countries to take sides in the conflict. Sweden and Finland, who have been neutral for decades recently petitioned to join NATO in response. Admission to the alliance requires unanimous consent of the 30 current members and Turkey has signaled it will block admission of both countries. Turkey has stated that the two countries have given support to members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), who they consider a terrorist group, and that both countries previously banned arms exports to the country. All three countries were in talks to resolve these issues, but the talks have unfortunately stalled with no plan to resume them in the near future.
Turkey has always been a wild card in NATO. Turkish President Recep Erdoğan has been unusually cozy with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and they have fanned the flames of conflict in the Mediterranean. There is a possibility that Erdoğan is using the situation to his advantage to gain leverage over the United States because the reasons given for blocking admission of the two countries appears thin.
The US imposed sanctions and a prohibition on arms sales to Turkey because Erdogan purchased weapons systems from Russia. Turkey may be seeking to have those sanctions lifted in return for its yes vote. Their obstinance on admission of Turkey and Sweden could be a play by the Turkish president to curry favor with Vladimir Putin. Putin for his part seems unfazed by the development, saying that the two countries pose no threat. He also moved Iskander missiles with nuclear capability to the Finnish border in a show of strength.
There have been rumblings that Turkey could be expelled from NATO because of its conduct but that seems unlikely in the short term. The US seems confident that the impasse will get fixed. The biggest concern should be ending the conflict in Ukraine as fast as possible. Although Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he will not trade land for peace, this seems the most likely outcome. Henry Kissinger has been a lead voice in suggesting that Ukraine give up land to end the war.
If that happens, Sweden and Finland’s attempt to join NATO may end up being irrelevant.