Finland still hopes to join Nato together with Sweden, Finland’s foreign minister has said, after the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, remarked that Ankara could accept Helsinki’s bid without its Nordic neighbour.
“Our strong desire in Finland has been and still is to join Nato together with Sweden,” Pekka Haavisto told reporters in Helsinki, adding: “Our position remains the same.”
Ankara has refused to ratify the two countries’ Nato membership bids, primarily because of Sweden’s refusal to extradite dozens of suspects that Ankara links to outlawed Kurdish fighters and a failed 2016 coup attempt. Sweden has a bigger Kurdish diaspora than Finland and a more serious dispute with Ankara.
Turkey has also reacted with fury to a decision by the Swedish police to allow a protest at which a far-right extremist burned a copy of the Qur’an outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm earlier this month. It has been outraged, too, by a Swedish prosecutor’s decision not to press charges against a pro-Kurdish group that hung an effigy of Erdoğan by its ankles outside Stockholm city court.
Following those incidents, Ankara last week suspended the two countries’ Nato accession talks. The decision has threatened to derail the bloc’s hopes of expanding to 32 countries at a summit planned for July in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius.
Erdoğan has dug in his heels, heading into a tightly contested 14 May election in which he is trying to energise his conservative and nationalist support base. On Sunday, he drew a clear distinction between the positions taken by Sweden and Finland in the past few months. “If necessary, we can give a different response concerning Finland. Sweden will be shocked when we give a different response for Finland,” Erdoğan said.
But Haavisto, who said he had held talks with his Turkish counterpart after Erdoğan’s remarks, rejected that option. “Sweden is our closest ally in defence and foreign policy,” he said. “I still see the Nato summit in Vilnius in July as an important milestone when I hope that both countries will be accepted as Nato members at the latest.”
“President Erdoğan’s statement proves that there is a positive will in Turkey to advance the Nato process quickly if needed,” Haavisto added.
Finland and Sweden dropped decades of military non-alignment and applied to join the defence alliance in May last year in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Finland would prefer to join Nato together – the two nations have a deep and longstanding defence cooperation – but Helsinki is also eager for membership to happen as quickly as possible given its 800-mile (1,300km) eastern border with Russia.
Finland spent more than a century as part of the Russian empire until it gained independence in 1917. It was then invaded by the Soviet Union in 1939.
Asked how long Finland could reasonably wait for Sweden, Haavisto replied: “We have patience.”
All 30 members of Nato must ratify Sweden’s and Finland’s applications. So far, Turkey and Hungary are the only countries holding out. The Hungarian legislature is expected to approve both bids in February or March.