Finland state

Turkey’s ‘divide and conquer’ plot for Sweden and Finland in their NATO bid failed

Abdullah Bozkurt/Stockholm

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government has hatched a secret plan to drive a wedge between Sweden and Finland as they seek to overcome Turkish objections to NATO membership, hoping to gain more concessions during negotiations.

The plot, carefully planned between Erdoğan’s advisers and several Foreign Ministry diplomats, had a two-pronged approach. One is based on private communications to delegations representing the two countries to imply that Turkey might view one more favorably than the other. The Turks have launched several suggestions to give the impression that one country has a better chance than the other if it accepts Turkish demands.

The second part of the Turkish tactic aimed to shape the public debate with remarks and talking points on the supposed differences between the two countries and how Turkey would like to approach each bid separately.

The main target has always been Sweden, the big dog among the Nordic states, according to Erdoğan’s people, who have come to hate the Nordic country for everything they dislike, from a strong tradition of defending rights and freedoms, of conflict aversion, of seeking consensus, of pursuing a rules-based world order and what Sweden describes as “feminist foreign policy.”

Last month, Reuters reported how the Turkish foreign minister lashed out at his Swedish counterpart at a Berlin meeting of NATO foreign ministers by raising his voice over Sweden’s Ann Linde breaking diplomatic protocol and saying that he was angered by Linde’s “feminist politics” bringing “so much drama.

The first phase of the plan was launched when Swedish and Finnish delegations arrived in Ankara to hold a first round of talks on May 25, 2022. The Turkish side demanded separate talks with each delegation to determine whether either other country would be willing to negotiate on its own.

A meeting between the Turkish and Swedish delegations was held on May 25, 2022 at the Turkish Presidential Palace in Ankara.

In the eyes of the Turkish side, Finland was seen as a weak link and Sweden was a badass. Therefore, the first meeting organized by the Turkish side was with the Finnish delegation, followed by the Swedish group.

Both the Swedish delegation, led by Oscar Stenström, Secretary of State and former Ambassador, and the Finnish delegation, led by Jukka Salovaara, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, made it clear to the Turkish delegation, represented by Ibrahim Kalın , Erdoğan’s confidant in the palace, and Sedat Önel, deputy foreign minister, that they did not want separate paths and that they wanted to move forward together.

Accordingly, the two delegations jointly held a third meeting with the Turkish side to let the general public know that the two countries wish to move forward together, as they did when submitting an official request to NATO to Brussels a week ago.

Although the Turkish side saw that its plot to divide Sweden and Finland had failed at the first attempt, Turkish officials continue to make public remarks aimed at creating the perception of a rift between the two with a view to mobilizing public opinion and the opposition in these countries. against their governments.

In an interview with the state-run Anadolu news agency on May 31, 2022, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said his government viewed Finland’s candidacy relatively positively unlike Sweden’s, but said both countries as well as NATO wanted to move forward with the bids simultaneously.

In public remarks since Turkey declared its opposition to Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO candidacies before resolving outstanding issues, President Erdoğan has focused particularly on Sweden in his attacks rather than on Finland. In a town hall meeting with young people on May 19, he spoke specifically about Sweden and said: “Sweden is a hub of terrorism and it has imposed an arms embargo on Turkey. Similar remarks were made by Erdoğan in the following days.

The Turkish delegation first held a bilateral meeting with a visiting Finnish delegation to discuss Turkish objections to Finland’s NATO candidacy on May 25, 2022.

Frustrated in its attempt to drive a wedge between the two countries, the Turkish government has avoided holding follow-up trilateral meetings. Çavuşoğlu revealed on May 31 that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had suggested holding trilateral meetings last week in Brussels, first at the technical level, followed by the foreign ministers of the three countries under mediation. from Stoltenberg.

He said Turkey had rejected the proposal and saw no benefit in holding such talks without concrete progress in Finland and Sweden to meet Turkish demands. “There is no use or meaning in giving the impression that ‘we [NATO together with Sweden and Finland] convince Turkey one way or another” [by holding such meetings]said Çavuşoğlu, recalling that Turkey had handed over a document listing all its demands and that Sweden and Finland must respond to the document before such a meeting takes place.

Turkish Foreign Minister’s remarks on a NATO proposal to hold a meeting in Brussels:

Yet on June 1, a day after Çavuşoğlu’s refusal, Stoltenberg told reporters at a joint press conference with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that a meeting in Brussels of senior officials from the three countries was planned. in the next few days under his leadership. So far, no such meeting has taken place.

The issue on the table has a lot to do with domestic politics and Turkey’s upcoming elections, which will likely be held in September, earlier than expected next year. Erdoğan and his people are determined to use Sweden and Finland as punching bags to energize his Islamist base and throw a bone at the government’s nationalist (Ülkücüler) and neo-nationalist (Ulusalcılar) allies, both fiercely anti-Western.

President Erdoğan also wants to use the issue to negotiate with the US administration and is particularly keen to derail a federal case in New York that would expose him to criminal charges over Turkish state lender Halkbank’s illegal dealings with Iranian entities. , which was done with his personal approval. . The Halkbank case is set to begin in federal court in New York soon after all sorts of delaying tactics by lawyers representing the Turkish government in US court failed.