Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will agree to support Sweden’s bid to join Nato despite his previous opposition, it has been announced.
Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg told a briefing that the Turkish leader has agreed to send Sweden’s Nato accession protocol to the Turkish Parliament “as soon as possible” after talks with Erdogan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson on the eve of a Nato summit in Lithuania.
“This is an historic day because we have a clear commitment by Turkey to submit the ratification documents to the Grand National Assembly, and to work also with the assembly to ensure ratification,” he said – though he warned a “clear date” could not be given for when Sweden will join.
There was no comment from Erdogan, but Kristersson said: “Today we took a very big step on the road toward complete ratification.”
Sweden had applied last May to join the collective defence pact, ending a decades-long stance of neutrality following the invasion of Ukraine.
Finland applied to join at the same time as its Nordic neighbour – but while Finland’s application was signed off by all 30 member states, Turkey held off on giving its consent for Sweden’s admission.
Nato members must unanimously approve new members of the US-aligned military alliance, which regards an attack on one member state as an attack on all member states.
In withholding consent, Mr Erdogan had cited concerns over Sweden’s historic embrace of Kurdish groups that Turkey considers terrorists, while Turkish officials have also voiced anger at far-right Qu’ran burnings in Sweden.
The enlargement of Nato also carries the risk of angering Vladimir Putin – with whom Mr Erdogan enjoys much warmer ties than all other Nato leaders, projecting a neutral stance on Ukraine and welcoming ultra-wealthy Russians into Turkey amid tumult in their home country.
The Turkish President had continued to voice objections as recently as Monday morning, claiming that his country’s longstanding application to join the EU must be progressed before he would sign off on Sweden’s entry.
“Turkey has been waiting at the door of the European Union for over 50 years now, and almost all of the Nato member countries are now members of the European Union,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul. “I am making this call to these countries that have kept Turkey waiting at the gates of the European Union for more than 50 years.”
It is thought Sweden has agreed to help unblock Turkey’s progress towards joining the European Union, adding: “What Sweden agreed today as an EU member was to support actively the efforts to reinvigorate Turkey’s EU accession process.”
It is unclear what the concession will mean in reality, with the EU flatly rejecting calls to “link the two processes” earlier. Mr Erdogan also had behind-closed-doors meetings with EU Council President Charles Michel late on Monday, however.
Turkish membership of the EU remains a distant dream, given Turkey’s 49-year occupation of northern Cyprus – viewed under international law as an illegal occupation of an EU member state’s territory – and allegations of human rights abuses under Mr Erdogan.
US president Joe Biden, who was in the UK on Monday meeting with Rishi Sunak and King Charles III, welcomed the agreement and said he will work with Turkey “on enhancing defense and deterrence in the Euro-Atlantic area. I look forward to welcoming Prime Minister Kristersson and Sweden as our 32nd Nato Ally.”
Top of the agenda for the Nato summit in Vilnius – which will see Western leaders assemble just 100 miles from Russia’s borders and 20 miles from the border with Belarus – will be the war in Ukraine and Kyiv’s own membership aspirations.
While Nato membership is thought to be out of the question for Ukraine while the war is ongoing, the two-day summit will discuss ways to bring it closer to Nato without actually joining, and security guarantees Kyiv might need to ensure that Russia doesn’t invade again after the war ends.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskky will join the summit in person on Wednesday.