The North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s sole Asian member has suggested it could bar two Nordic countries from entering the alliance.
On Thursday, leaders in Helsinki said Finland would apply for NATO membership “without delay.” Since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, both Finland and neighboring Sweden have increasingly discussed joining the western military bloc. Stockholm is expected to follow Helsinki’s application sometime in the coming days.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has previously said that both nations would be “very much welcomed by all 30 allies,” even suggesting their membership could be expedited. In April, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also declared that the White House “strongly supported” membership for the Nordic states.
On Friday, however, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara couldn’t support the move, claiming that Finland and Sweden are “home to many terrorist organizations.” He added: “We are following the developments regarding Sweden and Finland, but we don’t hold positive views.”
For a country to join NATO, it must have unanimous support from all other members. Erdogan said his country regrets approving Greek membership after it rejoined the alliance in the 1980s, deeming it a “mistake.” Ankara and Athens have a number of ongoing territorial disputes, and even fought a war over Cyprus in 1974.
The Turkish leader did not elaborate on his claims regarding terrorist cells active in Finland or Sweden, though he may have been referring to Kurdish groups which have clashed with Turkish forces in both Syria and Turkey itself. Western support for Kurdish militant factions in Syria has created tensions with Ankara for nearly a decade.
Responding to Erdogan’s comments, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto called for patience and a step-by-step process as Helsinki presses its NATO bid, adding that he would meet with his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on Sunday to discuss the issue further. Sweden, for its part, said it remains confident it will secure backing from all NATO members to join the bloc, despite the Turkish resistance.