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The backstory: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in early 2022 sparked security concerns among the Nordic countries of Sweden and Finland, as Finland, in particular, shares a 1,300-kilometer border with Russia. This led both countries to make a bid to enter NATO, with an immediate warning from Russian President Vladimir Putin that their membership would have repercussions.
More recently: Sweden has faced some opposition from Hungary, but primarily Turkey regarding its NATO bid. Turkey’s issue is that it sees Sweden as harboring members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (KWP), a group Turkey (and some other countries) views as a terrorist organization. Hungary’s main holdup was essentially saying it didn’t like Sweden’s attitude (and its leader’s friendly relations with Putin may have some influence, too). Without the vote of all NATO members, new countries cannot join.
In mid-2023, Sweden introduced new anti-terrorism legislation to boost its chances with Turkey, but this also raised concerns among the Swedish people about whether it would infringe on freedom of speech. But, after introducing this legislation and signing an agreement addressing Turkey’s concerns, Sweden gained the support it needed.
The development: On Tuesday, the Turkish Parliament voted to approve Sweden’s NATO bid after a 20-month delay, and the Nordic country is now one step closer to its overall goal of joining the Western military alliance. While Turkey has approved the bid, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan openly linked the progress to a commitment from the US to approve sales of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey.
After previously facing opposition from Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban reaffirmed the support of the Hungarian government for Sweden’s NATO membership and that he would urge its national assembly to vote in favor of its accession.
"We now look forward to President Erdogan signing the ratification document," said Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom in a written statement after the Turkish Parliament approved Sweden’s NATO bid.
“Sweden’s accession to NATO is a critical step in strengthening the alliance,” said US Ambassador to Turkey Jeffry Flake in a post on X, adding that he “greatly appreciate[s] the Turkish’s parliament’s decision to approve Sweden’s entry into NATO.”
"Positive developments we expect both on [procuring US] F-16s and Canada's promises [on lifting its arms embargo] would help our parliament to have a positive approach on Sweden ... All of them are linked," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters on a flight returning from Hungary, according to a text shared by his office.