The story so far: On June 28, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Turkey, Finland and Sweden in a trilateral meeting held in Madrid, Spain. The MoU was signed once the Finland President Niinistö and Sweden Prime Minister Andersson agreed to address the national security concerns of Turkey. Following this assurance, President Erdoğan agreed to support Finland and Sweden in their bid to join NATO.
The key provisions of the MoU include the following three points: a joint commitment between Turkey, Finland, and Sweden to counter terrorism; addressing the pending extradition of terror suspects through a bilateral legal framework, and investigating and interdicting “any financing and recruitment activities of the PKK and all other terrorist organisations.”
Besides the above, Finland and Sweden assured that “their respective national regulatory frameworks for arms exports enable new commitments to Allies”. Both countries also promised to stand against disinformation and to fully commit to EU’s CSDP (Common Security and Defence Policy) and Turkey’s participation in the PESCO (Permanent Structured Co-operation) Project on Military Mobility.
Turkey was initially against Finland and Sweden joining NATO. Though there were no direct bilateral issues between Turkey with Sweden and Finland, the former was against the latter for their position on the Kurdish issue and extradition of activists.
Turkey, after negotiations, agreed to withdraw its opposition for the following reasons. First, Finland and Sweden should promise to address counter-terrorism provisions within their countries. Finland has committed to modify its criminal code, and Sweden has assured to implement the new “Terrorist Offenses Act” from July 1. Second, Turkey had raised concerns about Finland and Sweden being home to Kurdish activists and militant organisations. Finland and Sweden have now agreed to execute the pending “deportations or extraditions” of listed ‘terror’ suspects made by Turkey. Third, lifting the arms embargo. There has been no clear definition about the category of weapons, but Finland and Sweden will remove the arms embargo against Turkey. Since Finland and Sweden have addressed all the above primary concerns of Turkey, Ankara has decided to withdraw its opposition to Helsinki and Stockholm.
Finland and Sweden have considered Mr. Erdogan as an authoritarian ruler against democratic norms and rights. The earlier positions of both countries on Turkey were based more on their principles relating to democracy, ‘separatism’, the rule of law etc. Their support to Kurdish activists from Turkey was based on their larger principles than any specific bilateral problem with Turkey.
Both Helsinki and Stockholm have agreed to revisit their position on Turkey, primarily due to the threat from Kremlin. The security threat from Russia looms large in the national capitals of Finland and Sweden today as Russia’s military aggression on Ukraine continues. The fear of their own national security has pushed both nations to join NATO which in turn has made them agree to Turkey’s conditions.
Russia shares a 1,340 kilometre long border with Finland. Sweden, though it does not share a land border, shares the Baltic Sea with Russia. The land/sea borders with Russia place both countries under direct threat from the Kremlin.
On June 28, Deputy Secretary of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev cautioned Finland and Sweden on continuing with their decision to join NATO. He referred to the relations with these countries as being respectful and mutually friendly. He underlined that there are no territorial disputes with these two countries; hence they should not worry about any security threat from Russia.
Since 1948, Finland, Sweden and Russia have maintained economic cooperation, but the relations always remained strained due to the Cold War and Finland’s neutrality principle. If Sweden and Finland join NATO, it means an enlarged presence of the latter around the west and north of Russia. This would go against the very objective of Moscow interfering in Ukraine — maintaining Russian influence in its immediate neighbourhood. Also, whether the two countries joining NATO will undermine Russia’s interests in the Arctic remains to be seen. Both Sweden and Finland are part of the Arctic States; Russia currently holds the Arctic Council chair and will remain the chair until 2023.
For Russia, Finland and Sweden joining NATO not only means an increased NATO presence in its neighbourhood but also questions its Arctic interests.
First, strengthening the alliance. Both Finland and Sweden which have followed the non-alignment principle have broken from their natural rule and decided to join NATO. This does not only mean guarantee of security against Russia but it also gives NATO the power to engage.
Second, NATO will gain strategic ground to counter Russia. The addition of more allies means a steady expansion of the NATO towards the East, through which it will now be able to exercise its military operations both on land and in the Baltic Sea, where Russia holds a strategic position. NATO will now also be able to position its weapon systems — further its combat formation and plan its attack techniques to power up deterrence and defence.
In 1997, NATO initiated the rapprochement in order to build bridges with Russia. However, with Russia annexing the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and launching a war in Ukraine, NATO’s rapprochement efforts came to an end. So currently, this might seem an impossible act for both parties. However, with NATO encircling Russia from the West, Russia might consider the option to meet at the table at a later stage.
Third, a secured Euro-Atlantic. NATO presence in the region will securitise and safeguard the Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which were earlier at risk due to their close proximity to Russia and Russian attacks. This will not only help Ukraine win the war but will also enable NATO to bring in advanced weapons such as fifth-generation aircraft, technological weapon systems and strong political institutions across the allied countries.
The author is a research associate at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bengaluru