Turkey is targeting Sweden in the dispute over NATO’s northern expansion and is more forgiving towards Finland. This is indicated by the first talks between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the governments of both countries since the beginning of the NATO crisis. Erdogan insists on concessions from the West in order to stop his domestic loss of prestige.
In a phone call with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson on Saturday, the head of state set a number of specific conditions, according to the Turkish Presidential Office. He criticized Sweden’s “contact” with people and organizations associated with the Kurdish terrorist organization PKK.
The movement of the Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, which Ankara blames for the attempted coup in 2016, is also still active in Sweden. The Scandinavian country had granted asylum to many opponents of the Turkish government in recent years.
Erdogan demanded that Stockholm stop “political, financial and military support” for terrorist organizations. “Concrete and serious steps” are needed against the PKK and its offshoots in Syria and Iraq. Erdogan meant the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG. Erdogan also demanded that Sweden lift its arms embargo against Turkey.
Turkish government media reiterate the terror charge against Sweden on a daily basis, while Finland is barely mentioned. In a conversation with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, according to the Presidential Office in Ankara, Erdogan left it at a general appeal for more solidarity in the fight against the PKK.
In a phone call with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Erdogan said Finland and Sweden should show “that they stand in solidarity with Turkey on fundamental issues, especially the fight against terrorism.”
Erdogan’s interlocutors emphasized their willingness to negotiate, but made no concrete concessions. After his phone call with the Turkish President, Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter that “the security interests of all allies” must be taken into account. Andersson announced that Sweden wants to expand its relations with Turkey, including in the fight against terrorism. Niinistö stressed that Finland condemns all forms of terrorism.
Turkey is also insisting that the US make concessions to end the NATO dispute. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu recently called for an end to US support for the Syrian YPG, the delivery of fighter jets to Ankara and the lifting of American sanctions imposed because of a Turkish arms deal with Russia.
In the US, however, resistance to Erdogan is becoming louder. According to the news platform The Hill, Robert Menendez, chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, opposed concessions to Ankara: “I don’t know why we keep rewarding authoritarian politicians.”
Turkey expert Henri Barkey from the US think tank CFR believes that Erdogan’s veto threat has damaged the US government’s efforts to push through the delivery of fighter jets to Ankara in Congress. “Erdogan tends to shoot first and ask much later,” Barkey wrote on Canada’s Asia Times. Barkey predicted that the Turkish president would not be able to enforce his terms.
Erdogan needs a foreign policy success in the NATO dispute in order to get off the defensive domestically. Poor economic conditions are causing support for his government to plummet a year before the next elections: inflation is at 70 percent and the lira has lost around 60 percent of its value against the euro and dollar over the past year and a half.
A solution to the dispute with NATO, which would be seen in Turkey as a triumph for Erdogan over the West, could help him win votes, as anti-Western resentment is widespread in Turkey. According to a survey, every second government supporter believes that Turkey’s economic problems are the work of foreign powers.
At an event over the weekend, Erdogan railed against “imperialists” and “global forces” who wanted to harm Turkey.
The Turkish opposition demonstrated its strength with a major event over the weekend. At the rally with tens of thousands of participants in Istanbul, opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu called on all opponents of Erdogan to overcome political, religious, ideological and ethnic differences in order to oust the government from power in the elections.
Kilicdaroglu’s left-wing nationalist CHP party has formed an anti-Erdogan alliance with five other parties. The goal is close, said Kilicdaroglu at the Istanbul rally: “Turkey is ready to change.”