Days after openly expressing opposition to Sweden and Finland’s bid for NATO membership, Turkish President Recep Tayyp Erdogan spoke this Saturday (21) with the leaders of the two Nordic countries.
Stockholm and Helsinki formalized their request to join the military alliance this week, abandoning decades of neutrality, in response to Russian action that started the Ukrainian War. The Turks, who maintain a close relationship with both sides of the conflict and are part of NATO, claim that the Nordics harbor people linked to groups considered to be terrorists. The veto statement mobilized Western leaders, who increased pressure on Ankara.
Turkish news agency Anadolu reported that Erdogan told Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson that he expected concrete steps to address his concerns about organizations Ankara considers terrorists. According to this version, the country is home to militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and followers of the cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the Turkish leader accuses of orchestrating a 2016 coup attempt.
Another demand cited by Erdogan would be an end to an arms export embargo imposed in 2019. Andersson commented on the call in a tweet, saying he hopes to strengthen bilateral relations on topics such as “peace, security and the fight against terrorism”.
On the Finnish side, President Sauli Niinistö said he had an “open and direct” conversation with Erdogan. “I stated that as NATO allies, Finland and Turkey will commit to each other’s security and that our relationship will grow stronger,” he said in a tweet. “Finland condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. The dialogue continues.”
According to a statement from Ankara, the Turkish leader repeated to Niinistö what he told Sweden’s Andersson: turning a blind eye to the fact that the country harbors what he called “dangerous terrorists” is not consistent with the stance of a candidate to join the alliance. western.
Even with the speech of Erdogan’s last days, pressured by Ukraine’s allies such as the American Joe Biden and the British Boris Johnson, the parties said they were confident in a diplomatic resolution. The expectation among analysts, however, is that Turkey will sell its support to the Nordics dearly, perhaps demanding the deportation of exiled activists or more incisive statements.
The formalization of the processing of the request by Sweden and Finland should take place until the NATO summit, at the end of June, in Madrid.
Russia has kept a measured tone on this matter, after initial threats that included the suggestion of placing nuclear weapons in areas close to the two Nordic neighbors – in the Finnish case, there is a 1,300 km border between the countries, while in the Swedish, the friction domain is the Baltic Sea.
Putin said there would be backlash against both nations, which are not seen as a threat, but that it would be proportionate to the militarization that eventual NATO membership would bring.
A first indication of this reaction came this Saturday, with the suspension of Russian gas supplies to Helsinki. The information was confirmed by Gasum, the main Finnish company in the sector, and by the Russian Gazprom.
Moscow’s official justification is that the neighbor did not accept payment for the product in rubles – which has already led to the cut for Bulgaria and Poland in April. Gasum, which also operates in Sweden and Norway, had already said that the risk of imports being cut was likely and added that it would seek to supply domestic demand through the Balticconnector pipeline, which links Finland to Estonia.
Natural gas accounts for just 6% of the energy consumed by Helsinki, according to 2020 data, but most of it comes from Russia. The Nordic country, which sees renewable energy advancing, has biomass as its main source — a quarter of the national energy. Oil still occupies the 21% share.
On the front on Saturday, Russia officially claimed the conquest of the city of Mariupol and intensified the offensive in the Lugansk region. Defense spokesman Sergei Choigu informed Putin of “the end of the operation and the total liberation of the Azovstal complex and the city of Mariupol”. The months-long battle over the steel region is an important step in Moscow’s quest to control Ukraine’s south and east, creating a land bridge with Crimea, which it annexed in 2014.
On Friday night, Russia claimed it had “fully liberated” the Azovstal complex. “In all, 2,439 Nazis from [Batalhão] Azov and Ukrainian soldiers who were at the steel plant surrendered. Today, the last group of 531 fighters surrendered,” Defense Spokesperson Igor Konachenkov said. “The tunnels at the site, where the fighters were hiding, are now under the complete control of Russian forces.”
Ukraine has not officially commented on Moscow’s allegations. President Volodymyr Zelensky has again urged a diplomatic path and said Russian gains in Donbass and Crimea will be temporary.
In addition to apparently stepping up its offensive in Severodonetsk, in the Lugansk region, Moscow said it had destroyed Ukrainian military installations in Zhitomír that housed weapons supplied by Western allies. The information could not be independently verified, as well as that of attacks on fuel depots in the Odessa region.
In Seoul, US President Joe Biden sanctioned a US$40 billion package in aid for Ukraine on Saturday. The proposal, presented by the Democrat last month for a slightly lower amount, was approved by Congress with the support of Republican lawmakers.
It is Washington’s biggest aid to date and will include military, economic and humanitarian assistance.
Zelensky also received support from the Portuguese António Costa, who traveled to Ukraine and expressed his solidarity with the country, calling Moscow’s action a barbaric aggression.