Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has come out in favor of Ukraine joining the North Atlantic alliance but remains firmly opposed to Sweden joining the bloc. The policy puts Ankara at odds with Washington, who supports Stockholm joining the alliance but not Kiev.
Erdoğan met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Istanbul on Friday. The Turkish leader said, “Ukraine deserves NATO membership with no doubt.”
President Joe Biden disagrees with Erdoğan regarding Kiev’s NATO bid. In an interview that aired last week on CNN, he said, “I don’t think there is unanimity in NATO about whether or not to bring Ukraine into the NATO family now, at this moment, in the middle of a war.” Adding, “If the war is going on, then we’re all in war. We’re at war with Russia, if that were the case.”
Throughout the conflict, Ankara has served as a diplomatic bridge between NATO and Moscow. A Turkish-led diplomatic effort nearly ended the war in the first three months, and Turkey brokered the grain export agreement that is responsible for helping to alleviate food shortages created by the war.
Turkey has additionally opposed NATO expansion into Sweden and Finland. Last year, Ankara inked a trilateral pact with Stockholm and Helsinki. Turkey said Finland met its commitments in the agreement and lifted its block on Helsinki’s membership bid.
However, Ankara claims Stockholm is refusing to fully implement the agreement. The spat between the two nations has been exacerbated by Sweden allowing Quran burnings.
Turkey’s diplomatic outreach to Moscow, opposition to NATO expansion in Sweden, and refusal to sanction Russia has been used to criticize Erdoğan for being insufficiently anti-Kremlin.
As Kiev’s desire to join NATO is a key reason Moscow went to war, it is unclear if Ankara’s support for Ukraine becoming a member of the bloc will damage Erdoğan’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Next month, in Turkey, Erdoğan says he will be meeting with his Russian counterpart.
The Turkish leader believes that the grain deal will be extended. “Our hope is that it will be extended at least once every three months, not every two months. We will make an effort in this regard and try to increase the duration of it to two years,” he said. Erdoğan added he would make a phone call to Putin concerning a potential prisoner swap.