CNN: Turkey stalling NATO expansion could bolster Putin’s propaganda

CNN: Turkey stalling NATO expansion could bolster Putin’s propaganda
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Turkey continues to block the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO as the alliance’s July summit approaches. Unwilling to provoke Putin, Erdogan may refuse to allow the expansion even if other demands are met.

In his recent analysis for CNN World, Luke McGee outlines scenarios for how Turkey’s opposition to Finland and Sweden’s NATO accession can play out before the July 11 NATO summit

Following the invasion of Ukraine in 2022, both Finland and Sweden had parted with precedent to make NATO bids. Members of the military alliance, with the notable exception of Turkey and Hungary, look favorably upon the accession of the two Nordic countries.

Erdogan’s objections are purportedly due to security concerns, as the Turkish President claims Sweden harbors members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and other persons designated as terrorists in Turkey, and wants these individuals to be extradited. Sweden has expressed in no uncertain terms that extraditions will not happen.

Quoting Gonul Tol of the Middle East Institute’s Turkey Program, McGee presents the more pressing reasons Erdogan has to prevent Finland and Sweden’s accession. Firstly, Erdogan has carefully cultivated the image of a strongman which he does not want to damage by backpedaling on an issue that has been on the agenda for so long.

More importantly, according to Tol, Erdogan needs to curry favor with Putin since Turkey greatly benefits from trade with Russia. Tol explains, “Russia has been a lifeline economically for Turkey after other nations imposed sanctions for their activities in Syria, their cooperation militarily with Russia and other hostile activity. Without Russian money, Erdogan would not have been able to raise wages or provide financial support to students. He is now promising mass rebuilding, post-earthquake. So Russia is still an attractive partner for Erdogan.”

McGee writes that an optimistic and a pessimistic camp have appeared with regard to predicting Erdogan’s stance. Sweden, Finland, and other states bordering Russia believe that since it is in Turkey best interest to be a NATO member, it will drop its objections in due time and will make more realistic demands to acquiesce to the expansion. For example, Erdogan might ask that sanctions be lifted, or the US allows the purchase of fighter jets.

More pessimist allies believe that Erdogan could refuse to budge at all. “I think it’s increasingly likely that Finland breaks from Sweden and goes for membership alone,” one NATO diplomat told CNN. Alternatively, neither Sweden nor Finland gets to join the alliance, even though both countries have made it clear that they are no longer neutral parties in the region.

McGee notes that this scenario would be a detriment to the credibility of NATO’s open-door policy, but most importantly, that it would bolster Putin’s propaganda of a divided West. McGee writes, “The risk for NATO and the broader Western alliance comes if they fail to join the alliance at all and the Kremlin can use it for propaganda purposes. If that happens, even if the war suddenly ends, the narrative of a divided West will continue to be the drum that NATO’s opponents can bang.”