Ukraine updates: Turkey agrees to allow Sweden and Finland to join NATO

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Credit…Bernat Armangue/Associated Press

MADRID – NATO leaders will officially invite Finland and Sweden to join the alliance on Wednesday after Turkey lifted its veto on their membership, NATO’s secretary general said on Tuesday evening, paving the way for this which would be one of the most significant expansions of the alliance in decades.

The landmark deal, following Turkey’s agreement on a memorandum with the two Nordic countries, underscored how the war in Ukraine backfired on President Vladimir V. Putin, undermining Russian efforts to weaken NATO and pushing Sweden and Finland, which were neutral and non-aligned for decades. , in the arms of the covenant.

After weeks of talks, culminating in an hour-long meeting in Madrid, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to lift his block on Swedish and Finnish membership in return for a package of actions and promises that they will act against terrorism and terrorist organizations.

“As NATO allies, Finland and Sweden are committed to fully supporting Turkey against threats to its national security,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, providing some details on the agreement. “This includes further changes to their national legislation, cracking down on PKK activities and reaching an agreement with Turkey on extradition,” he added, referring to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party which wants an independent Kurdish state in territory partly within Turkey’s borders.

Mr Erdogan had blocked Nordic countries’ candidacies for NATO amid concerns over Sweden’s longstanding support for the PKK which has attacked non-military targets and killed civilians in Turkey, is banned in that country and is designated by the United States and the European Union as a terrorist organization.

But the memorandum does not specify the extradition of any of the roughly 45 people Mr. Erdogan wanted to send to Turkey to stand trial on terrorism charges. Sweden has already passed tougher anti-terrorism legislation which will come into force on July 1.

Finland and Sweden had been militarily unaligned for many years, but decided to apply to join the alliance after Russia invaded Ukraine in February. With Russia attacking a neighbour, both countries felt vulnerable, although Sweden, with a long tradition of neutrality, was more hesitant.

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin has warned both countries against joining NATO, but his threats have proven counterproductive.

Both countries bring geostrategic advantages to the alliance. Finland shares an 830-mile border with Russia and has a modern, well-equipped military; Sweden can control the entrance to the Baltic Sea, which will greatly help NATO’s planning to defend the most vulnerable countries in Eastern Europe.

The final effort to resolve the dispute began early Tuesday morning, when President Biden called Mr Erdogan to urge him to “seize the moment” on the eve of the summit, to allow discussions on other topics to take place. continue, according to a senior administration official. with knowledge of the discussion.

The official, who requested anonymity to discuss the private deliberations, said the president passed on the substance of his conversation with Mr Erdogan to the Finnish and Swedish leaders. And after several hours of negotiations later that night, the two Nordic leaders consulted Mr Biden again before announcing the deal with Turkey.

The US official said the agreement between Turkey and the two Nordic countries involved a series of compromises on both sides, including Turkey’s statement inviting Finland and Sweden to apply and questions about an arms embargo imposed on Turkey and Turkey’s belief that Finland and Sweden had given refuge to groups they considered to be terrorists.

US officials had for days downplayed Mr Biden’s role in the negotiations, saying he would not be a middleman between other countries and insisting he belonged to Turkey, Finland and the EU. Sweden to resolve their differences.

After the deal was announced on Tuesday evening, the senior administration official acknowledged that it was considered more diplomatic to publicly downplay Mr. Biden’s involvement. This prevented Turkey from asking concessions from the United States for agreeing to lift its veto, which could have complicated the talks, the official said.

The next steps for Finland and Sweden are clear: NATO will vote on Wednesday to accept their candidacies. There will also be a quick study of their defense capabilities and needs. But the talks are expected to be routine, since the two countries are NATO partners and have exercised with NATO allies.

The final, more difficult step requires the legislatures of the current 30 members to vote to amend NATO’s founding treaty to accept the new members. It has taken up to a year in the past, but it is expected to be much faster for the Nordic countries.

The US Senate is already advancing hearings on the nomination and Mr Biden has been a strong supporter of the new members.

Johanna Lemola contributed reporting from Helsinki, Finland.

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