Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has thrown Sweden and Finland’s potential NATO membership into doubt, just as both countries are on the cusp of applying to join the alliance in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“We are following the developments regarding Sweden and Finland, but we don’t hold positive views,” Erdogan told press in Istanbul on Friday.
NATO ascension for a new member state requires consensus approval from all existing members.
A senior American diplomat said the U.S. is working to clarify Turkey’s official position on the matter.
The issue will be discussed at the NATO ministerial meeting in Berlin over the weekend, Karen Donfried, assistant secretary for Europe and Eurasian affairs; was quoted by Reuters as saying in a press call later on Friday.
Turkey joined NATO in 1952, and has the second-largest military in the 30-member alliance after the United States.
Erdogan referenced the Nordic countries’ hosting of members of the Kurdish Workers’ Party, or PKK; which Turkey considers a terrorist group.
The countries are “home to many terrorist organizations,” Erdogan claimed.
Sweden has been supportive of the Kurdish YPG, the PKK’s Syrian branch, during the Syrian conflict.
Its ministers have met with YPG leaders, which Ankara has condemned.
CNBC has reached out to the Swedish and Finnish foreign ministries for comment.
Erdogan also referenced NATO’s acceptance of Greece as a member in 1952 as a mistake.
Turkey and Greece are longtime rivals and have fought in conflicts against one another even as NATO members.
“As Turkey, we don’t want to repeat similar mistakes. Furthermore, Scandinavian countries are guesthouses for terrorist organizations,” Erdogan said.
“They are even members of the parliament in some countries,” he added. “It is not possible for us to be in favor.”
Sweden currently has six sitting Kurdish members of parliament, representing the Liberal, Sweden Democrats, Social Democrats and Left Party.
Finland’s leaders on Thursday called for NATO membership “without delay” and neighboring Sweden is expected to follow suit, leaving it all but certain that the Scandinavian countries would soon abandon their traditional positions of neutrality toward both NATO and Russia in favor of joining the mutual defense pact.
Public support for joining the organization in both countries has soared since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Finland shares a long border with Russia, and Moscow has threatened severe consequences if they were to become NATO members.
Opposition to NATO enlargement was one of the reasons the Kremlin cited for its invasion of Ukraine, which has sought NATO membership for several years.
In response to Erdogan’s comments, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto urged patience and to take the process “step by step.”
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said she was very confident that her country’s membership bid would receive unanimous backing from NATO members.
“If were to decide to do take that alternative (joining NATO); I think we would get very, very strong support from large and important countries who are members with whom Turkey has an interest in having good relations,” Linde said.