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26 Jan, 2024 03:02

Erdogan signs off on NATO expansion

The move leaves Hungary as the last holdout yet to approve Stockholm’s application to join the US-led military bloc
Erdogan signs off on NATO expansion

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has formally ratified Sweden’s bid to join the NATO military bloc, finalizing the decision after months of political wrangling over the Nordic state’s stance toward Kurdish militant groups deemed terrorists by Ankara.

In a presidential decree published on Thursday, Erdogan signed off on an earlier decision by the Turkish parliament to approve Sweden’s bid, some 20 months after the country’s initial application. The final accession document will now be sent off to Washington for review, as is required under the bloc’s regulations.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson hailed the decision in a social media post, saying it marked a “key milestone” for “Sweden’s path towards NATO membership.” In his own post, Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom noted that “only Hungary’s ratification remains before Sweden can become a member of NATO.”

Ankara had cited a number of reservations regarding Stockholm’s effort to join the bloc, arguing that Sweden was harboring members of Kurdish armed groups designated as terrorists under Turkish law. However, after months of negotiations, senior Turkish lawmaker Fuat Oktay said that Sweden had reformed its anti-terrorism statutes, cracked down on some groups’ financial activities, convicted one terror suspect and extradited another. Previous restrictions on weapons sales to Türkiye were also scaled back, clearing the way for ratification.

Erdogan also linked the issue to his country’s request for 40 new F-16 fighter jets from the United States, which has also been resolved, with US officials previously saying they expect the weapon sale to get the green light soon after Ankara ratified Sweden’s NATO bid.

With Türkiye’s approval, Hungary is now the last remaining member state that has yet to sign off on expanding the US-led military alliance. While Budapest ultimately accepted Finland’s application to join NATO last year after multiple delayed votes, it is unclear when it might ratify Sweden’s effort. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the government is open to the move, though the country’s parliament has still not scheduled a ratification vote on its agenda.

Both Scandinavian countries abandoned their longstanding policies of non-alignment after Moscow launched its military operation in Ukraine in early 2022, citing it as a threat to their security. When Finland officially joined the bloc in April 2023, NATO doubled the length of its border with Russia.

Moscow has stated that it had no issue with either country until then, but would have to react if they were to join NATO. Russia has insisted that the bloc’s expansion eastward – which began in 1999 – is a threat to Russian national security and one of the root causes of the Ukraine conflict.