Finland’s bid to join NATO has finally gained support from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkey blocked Finland’s bid to join the alliance for months, saying it supported “terrorists”.
At a press conference in Ankara with his Finnish counterpart, Erdogan praised Finland’s “authentic and concrete steps” on Turkish security.
Any NATO expansion needs the support of all its members – and Finland is now one step closer to joining.
A vote goes to the Turkish parliament to approve the application.
The blue carpet was rolled out for Finnish President Sauli Niinisto as he arrived at the Presidential Palace in the pouring rain.
Finland, which borders Russia, applied with Sweden last May to join the West’s defensive alliance. Both were stopped by Turkish objections – but Turkey still refuses to support Sweden and Finland has decided to go ahead alone.
President Erdogan’s hostility towards Sweden became apparent during a press conference with Niinisto. He told reporters in Ankara that Sweden had embraced Kurdish militants and labeled them “terrorists”. He complained that demonstrations by Kurdish militants were allowed in the streets of Stockholm.
Finland and Sweden have given up their traditional military neutrality in response to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and both are still striving to join NATO in time for a July summit in Lithuania. But any new member must get the approval of all 30 NATO members.
Turkey faces presidential and parliamentary elections on May 14. Assuming parliament ratifies Finland’s accession in advance, the government in Helsinki has yet to secure Hungary’s support.
Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, however, said on Friday that it will vote yes in Parliament in Budapest on March 27. A leading party figure said a decision on Sweden would come “later”.
Niinisto told reporters as he stood next to the Turkish leader that the process of joining the alliance “would not be complete without Sweden” and he hoped both countries would join NATO in time for the Vilnius summit.
Sweden’s talks with Turkey were recently suspended for several weeks after a Quran was burned outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm by a far-right Danish politician, who has denied ties to Russian extremists.
President Erdogan said Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson was a “nice person” but Ankara had asked his government to extradite 120 figures sent to Turkey so far.
Prime Minister Sanna Marin said this week that if Finland joined before Sweden, Helsinki would do everything it could to ensure that its Nordic ally joined NATO as soon as possible.
Since Russia’s invasion began in February 2022, Finland has sought to strengthen its eastern border, which, at 1,340 km (832 mi), is the longest border with Russia in the European Union. It has started building a 200 km fence on the border to strengthen security.
Finland and Sweden have both been official NATO partners since 1994 and have participated in NATO missions since the Cold War.
Finland has a smaller population than Sweden (5.5 million), but it has a well-funded defense force with a military force of 280,000 and an additional 870,000 reservists.
Sweden has spent less on defense in recent decades, but has aimed to meet the NATO target of 2% of its economic output by 2026, with conscripts of 24,000 by 2025 and 50,000 by 2035.
Last month, Sweden’s military intelligence and security agency (Must) said the security threat was the most serious since the early 1980s and that a tangible military threat was emanating from Russia.
Must’s head, Lina Hallin, said the Russian military currently has limited capabilities to reach Sweden’s immediate vicinity, but would be able to learn lessons from the war in Ukraine and strengthen its military presence.