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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Group of 20 summit in Rome in 2021. Erdogan signaled he wouldn’t allow Finland and Sweden to join NATO, alleging they support Kurdish militants his government regards as terrorists.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Group of 20 summit in Rome in 2021. Erdogan signaled he wouldn’t allow Finland and Sweden to join NATO, alleging they support Kurdish militants his government regards as terrorists. (Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg)

(Tribune News Service) — NATO received formal membership bids from Finland and Sweden as Russia’s war in Ukraine reshapes European defense, but the Nordic nations must first overcome opposition from Turkey.

“This is a good day at a critical moment for our security,” the alliance’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, told reporters. “This is a historic moment which we should seize.”

Membership requires unanimous agreement among alliance members, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday signaled he wouldn’t allow the Nordic nations to join, alleging they support Kurdish militants his government regards as terrorists.

Erdogan made clear on Wednesday that his concerns extend beyond Sweden and Finland but also to how other NATO members handle the Kurdish groups.

“Our only expectation from our allies was that they should have approached Turkey’s efforts to protect its borders and establish its security the same way,” he told lawmakers of his ruling AK Party in parliament. “NATO’s expansion is meaningful to the degree our sensitivities are respected.”

NATO ambassadors met Wednesday morning, but couldn’t agree to proceed with the applications, according to people familiar with the matter. Only after all NATO allies give consent can Sweden and Finland start accession talks with the alliance.

A NATO official said the alliance is determined to work through the issues and reach a rapid conclusion.

Turkey is engaged in talks with Sweden and Finland, and NATO members say they’re confident the Turkish concerns can be overcome.

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said on Tuesday that he’s in daily contact with Turkish diplomats, and that a meeting in person will be arranged “when the time comes.”

Speaking in an interview on Finland’s YLE TV1, Haavisto called Turkey’s move “a test” of “whether NATO’s open-door policy exists” and signaled that “undemocratic practices, such as oppression, blackmail” aren’t fitting for “an alliance of democratic countries.”

Bringing Sweden and Finland into NATO would fortify the alliance’s defense in the northeast and would mark the biggest shift in Europe’s security landscape to emerge since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The traditionally non-aligned countries boast NATO-standard militaries with strong navies and growing defense budgets, as well as major air power.

Finland was driven into the fold of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization by Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, and pulled neighboring Sweden along. The attack shifted popular opinion overnight in both countries, with policy makers rapidly kicking off the process to join, even as Russia has kept warning the pair with potential consequences.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, who is traveling to Washington, D.C., on Thursday with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, said he’s “optimistic” Turkey’s stance can be “managed through discussions.”

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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