With his opposition to Finland and Sweden joining NATO, Turkish President Erdogan has startled the defense alliance. Erdogan complained that the two Scandinavian countries offer sanctuary to anti-Turkish organizations such as the Kurdish PKK. Turkey could use a veto to prevent new members from joining NATO, but Erdogan’s resistance only lasted 24 hours.
A presidential aide made it clear that Ankara has not slammed the door on Helsinki and Stockholm. This denial was not made to foreign media by accident. In Turkey, Erdogan wants to score points with his criticism of the Scandinavians as defenders of the fatherland.
At first glance, Finland and Sweden’s NATO bids offer Erdogan the ideal opportunity to present himself as a strong man ahead of next year’s Turkish parliamentary and presidential elections. He can use it to drum up domestic politics without risking much in foreign policy.
Turkey’s mediating role in the Ukraine war has impressed the West; no one in Europe or the US will question Turkey’s NATO membership because of Erdogan’s sayings. Finland and Sweden may curb PKK activities in their countries to appease Erdogan. Perhaps he will finally get his long-awaited appointment with US President Joe Biden, who has kept the Turkish head of state at a distance so far. Erdogan could then sell that as a domestic triumph as well.
He could and can use such successes at the moment. Many Turks blame his government for the country’s economic problems, with inflation at 70 percent and the lira depreciating sharply. The opposition also scored points with the demand that the 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey be sent back to their homeland. Erdogan needs a topic that will help him off the defensive. Rash with the West goes down well with Turkish nationalists.
In the long term, however, Erdogan is not doing his country any favors. Turkey’s western partners have long since become accustomed to his verbal escapades – as in 2009, for example, when Erdogan opposed the election of then Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen as NATO Secretary General before, after much fanfare, he finally agreed. The fact that Erdogan, in the middle of the Ukraine war, is damaging the unity and unity of the West for no reason leaves a stale aftertaste, even if nothing concrete follows from it. Vladimir Putin will have noticed it carefully.