Türkiye’s stance on Sweden’s NATO bid: The Kremlin’s Perspective

    Some experts argue that Türkiye’s approval of Sweden’s NATO membership strains ties with Russia. However, a more nuanced approach is needed to understand the issues at stake.

    The Türkiye-Russia relations go far beyond superficial analysis. Since the Russo-Turkish War of 1676–1681, both sides have conflicted many times and have accumulated sufficient experience to understand each other. Thus, the two sides have managed their relations via balanced, realistic, and interest-oriented policies. Sometimes in this context, 2 + 2 does not always equal 4, especially in the post-Cold War period. 

    The Kremlin is aware of two essential pieces of information. Firstly, Türkiye has been a NATO member since 1952, and its army is NATO’s second largest. Secondly, Russia’s relations with Türkiye are conducted through intricate negotiations, taking into account their respective national interests.

    As such, Türkiye and Russia have developed negotiation protocols at the intersection of their national interests, through which discussions are frank and to the point. As a result, both sides seek to achieve a win-win situation where both sides maximise their benefits.

    Undoubtedly, at times, developments would come as a surprise. However, given the protocols in place, neither side reacts impulsively while taking steps within the existing framework to protect mutual interests.

    Türkiye’s approval of Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership was not delayed solely due to Ankara’s unwillingness to irritate relations with the Kremlin. It was also because both Scandinavian countries were slow in implementing domestic reforms in the fight against terrorism that addressed Türkiye’s security concerns. 

    In other words, Türkiye made its calculations based on its national interests first, not just according to Russia’s preferences. And this is also known by the Kremlin. The Kremlin did not place all its bets on Türkiye to prevent Sweden and Finland, which share borders with Russia, from becoming NATO members. It did not view Türkiye as a country willing to block such a bid forever.

    Meanwhile, Sweden and Finland have already aligned their foreign policy with NATO in recent years. They have been participating in NATO-led military exercises for some time. Additionally, Sweden’s neutrality, enforced for many decades, lost its validity when it gained full EU membership. 

    Moreover, the two Scandinavian countries decided to join NATO as a protective umbrella when they perceived a threat to their survival and security. Instead of asking, “Why were these two countries approved for membership,” a more accurate question would be, “Why did these two countries want to join NATO,” which will lead us to a better understanding. In other words, when considering these two countries’ NATO membership quest, one should examine Russia’s war onUkraine and the fait accompli referendum, which played a key role in influencing their bids.

    Similarly, Russia has not conducted its belligerent strategic calculus in Ukraine while considering Türkiye’s foreign policy. Thus, Sweden’s desire to join NATO stems directly from Russia’s hostile behaviour in its neighbourhood. AlreadyIn a press statement in 2016, Sergei Lavrov expressed that he did not believe Sweden would directly attack Russia if it joined NATO, but he mentioned that the Russian army would take necessary military measures on the country’s northern border. 

    The proximity of NATO to a significant city like St. Petersburg worries Russia. Therefore, the Russian leadership must undertake the required military measures along the frontier in any case. Russia, which used Ukraine as a pretext to prevent NATO enlargement and legitimise its military operation, now faces an even more substantial NATO presence on its frontiers.

    Moreover, the strategic importance of Kaliningrad has increased, and discussions about the Suwałki Gap, which connects Kaliningrad to Belarus, have gained traction in military quarters. The deployment of Wagner to Belarus did not come as punishment for this private military company (PMC). Instead, it was a step intended to use this PMC to achieve strategic goals and widen the scope of the war if needs be. Wagner mercenaries are now training Belarus special forces 5 km near the Polish border. These developments should be interpreted in conjunction with Putin’s bold reminder that Poland’swestern territories were gifted by Stalin to Poland. 

    In the last year and a half, Russia’s challenges in Ukraine and its struggle to achieve its goals in its so-called “special military operation” and resulting political isolation have tilted the balance of Türkiye-Russia relations in favour of Russia. This situation has provided Ankara with more leeway in its relations with Moscow. Türkiye acknowledges this window of opportunity and is merely taking steps accordingly.

    This article originally appeared in the opinion section of the website Middle East Monitor.

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