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Finland clears the final hurdle and will join NATO over Russia's objection

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

All right. On now to European affairs - the Turkish parliament has approved Finland's request to join NATO.

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

It's the last step needed to seal Finland's membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Both Finland and Sweden had applied for NATO membership following Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year, but Sweden's application has been blocked by Turkey and Hungary. Turkey says Sweden has been harboring Kurdish activists that the Turkish government calls terrorists.

MARTÍNEZ: Joining us now from Istanbul to discuss Turkey's decision is NPR's Peter Kenyon. Peter, tell us more about the vote, and why now?

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, this was a victory for NATO, which has been looking forward to welcoming both Finland and Sweden into the alliance. And as you mentioned, it was the Russian invasion of Ukraine that really caused both Stockholm and Helsinki to want to be full NATO members. This certainly is a blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin. He has long opposed any eastward expansion by NATO. So this ratification vote now clears the way for Finland to formally join the alliance as a full member.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. But as we mentioned, Turkey is not budging on Sweden's application. So what are the Swedes saying about this? And is there any chance that Turkey might back off on that and allow them to join as well?

KENYON: Well, Sweden says it accepts Finland's decision to join NATO on its own. Finland, by the way, says it will continue to press for Stockholm's accession to the military alliance. Turkey's block on Sweden's NATO accession bid has nothing to do with not wanting Stockholm to join the alliance. Turkey says it would welcome Sweden into NATO, but only if it stops giving shelter and, as Ankara puts it, also allowing propaganda platform to Kurdish militants that Turkey sees as terrorists. That includes the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party, which has been in armed conflict with Turkey for decades. Ankara says Sweden has allowed the group to raise funds and spread its message, among other things.

Sweden has made some moves to address these concerns. It passed a new anti-terrorism law. That prompted the NATO secretary general to say he believes Sweden had fulfilled its commitments to Turkey and should be allowed into NATO. But Turkish officials say Sweden hasn't done enough yet. President Erdogan, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has a list of more than 100 people he wants Sweden to deport back to Turkey to face charges. Sweden says that's not possible, but it's willing to work with Ankara to see what they can do to resolve the issue.

MARTÍNEZ: But, you know, even without Sweden, I mean, it sounds like a pretty big deal, removing this final barrier to Finland's membership. And Russia isn't happy about this. So, I mean, considering that especially Finland, who shares this long border with Russia - this has to be a big deal.

KENYON: Oh, it is. That border is more than 800 miles long. This accession brings NATO right up to that Russian border, and that has prompted threats from Moscow. The Russian embassy in Sweden this week threatened both Sweden and Finland with retaliation if they join NATO. The embassy posted a message on its Facebook page saying, quote, "If anyone believes that this will improve Europe's security, you can be sure that the new members of the hostile bloc will become a legitimate target for Russia's retaliatory measures, including military ones."

Now, here in Turkey, this has been something of a balancing act for President Erdogan. He's trying to maintain Turkey's status as a reliable NATO member while at the same time not angering Moscow for fear of jeopardising trade relations with Russia. Erdogan's also running for reelection in May, and there's some speculation here that his tough stand on Sweden's NATO bid could change after the vote.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Peter, thanks.

KENYON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
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