Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan will agree to support Sweden’s bid to join Nato despite his previous opposition, it has been announced.
Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg told a briefing that the strongman leader has agreed to send Sweden’s Nato accession protocol to the Turkish Parliament “as soon as possible” after talks with Erdogan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson on the eve of a Nato summit in Lithuania.
He said it was a “historic step” but warned a “clear date” could not be given for when Sweden will join.
Sweden had applied last May to join the collective defence pact, ending a decades-long stance of neutrality following the invasion of Ukraine.
Finland applied to join at the same time as its Nordic neighbour – but while Finland’s application was signed off by all 30 member states, Turkey held off on giving its consent for Sweden’s admission.
Nato members must unanimously approve new members of the US-aligned military alliance, which regards an attack on one member state as an attack on all member states.
In withholding consent, Erdogan had cited concerns over Sweden’s historic embrace of Kurdish groups that Turkey considers terrorists, while Turkish officials have also voiced anger at far-right Qu’ran burnings in Sweden.
The enlargement of Nato also carries the risk of angering Vladimir Putin – with whom Erdogan enjoys much warmer ties than all other Nato leaders, projecting a neutral stance on Ukraine and welcoming ultra-wealthy Russians into Turkey amid tumult in their home country.
Erdogan had continued to voice objections as recently as Monday morning, claiming that Turkey’s long-standing application to join the EU must be progressed before he would sign off.
“Turkey has been waiting at the door of the European Union for over 50 years now, and almost all of the Nato member countries are now members of the European Union,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul. “I am making this call to these countries that have kept Turkey waiting at the gates of the European Union for more than 50 years.”
It is unclear if he received any concessions from the EU ahead of the about-turn.
Erdogan also held meetings with EU Council President Charles Michel late Monday – though EU Commission spokesperson Dana Spinant said that “you cannot link the two processes in regards to Turkey.”