On Wednesday, Finland and Sweden formally applied to join NATO as the two nations are breaking from their policies of neutrality.

Sweden has been a neutral country since the early 1800s, and the policy kept the country out of the world wars, sparing it from being destroyed like most of Europe. Finland, which shares an over 800-mile border with Russia, has been neutral since the end of World War II.

The two countries decided together to scrap their non-alignment in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the Nordic countries’ break from neutrality. “I warmly welcome the requests by Finland and Sweden to join NATO. You are our closest partners,” he said. “This is a historic moment, which we must seize.”

The two countries joining NATO and expanding the alliance further onto Russia’s border will significantly escalate tensions in the region. Russian President Vladimir Putin said this week that while Finland and Sweden joining NATO isn’t a “threat” to Russia since it has no problems with the nations, he said Moscow would have to respond if NATO military infrastructure is expanded.

While Stoltenberg and most NATO countries have said they expect a swift application process, Turkey objects to Finland and Sweden joining and blocked the alliance from holding early talks on their membership.

Ankara wants Helsinki and Stockholm to lift export controls it imposed on Turkey and to denounce the PKK, a Kurdish group Ankara considers a terrorist organization. Stoltenberg didn’t appear too concerned over Turkey’s objection and said NATO allies “are determined to work through all issues and reach rapid conclusions.”

Turkey Blocks Start of Talks on Sweden, Finland’s NATO Bids

On Wednesday, NATO diplomats failed to reach a consensus on whether to start early membership talks with Finland and Sweden after the Nordic countries formally handed in their applications. Officials wouldn’t say publicly who objected, but sources told Middle East Eye Turkey blocked the start of the talks.

Turkey is the only NATO member that has loudly objected to Finland and Sweden joining NATO. Ankara’s opposition is over the Nordic country’s alleged ties to the PKK, a Kurdish militant group Turkey considers to be a terrorist organization, and over an arms export restriction that Sweden and Finland imposed on Turkey.

Three Turkish officials told Bloomberg that in order for Ankara to drop its objection, Finland and Sweden must denounce the PKK, which the US and EU also have designated as a terrorist group. Turkey wants Helsinki and Stockholm to crack down on suspected PKK members Ankara says are in their territory.

Turkey also wants the Nordic nations to lift the arms export restrictions, which were imposed in 2019 when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched an offensive in northeast Syria. “We cannot say ‘yes’ to those who impose sanctions on Turkey, on joining NATO,” Erdogan said on Monday.

Turkey also has gripes with current NATO members, although the Turkish officials said they wouldn’t use Sweden and Finland to negotiate other issues. Chief among Turkey’s problems with the alliance is the US sanctions imposed over its purchase of S-400 Russian missile defense systems. The US also kicked Turkey out of the F-35 program over the purchase, which Ankara wishes to rejoin.

Republished Antiwar.com with permission

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