The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğanhas cast doubt on Finnish and Swedish membership of Nato, saying he does not have a positive opinion of the two Nordic nations joining the military alliance after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
His remarks came as a Swedish parliamentary security review said membership would reduce the risk of conflict in northern Europe and a day after neighbor Finland said it aimed to join the alliance.
Finland and Sweden, while both Nato partners, have long viewed membership as an unnecessary provocation of Russia, their powerful eastern neighbour. Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, however, has led to a radical rethink of their security policies.
Membership of Nato would require ratification by all existing members, and Erdoğan remarked to journalists after leaving Friday prayers in Istanbul that Turkey would not welcome either.
“We are currently following developments regarding Sweden and Finland, but we don’t feel positively about this,” he said.
Turkey has been a NATO member since 1952 and its membership remains a cornerstone of its foreign policy towards western countries. The comments appeared directed at the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey regards as a terrorist organisation, although they appeared to encompass the communities of Kurdish origin in Scandinavia as a whole.
“We don’t want to commit a mistake,” he added. “Scandinavian countries are like guesthouses for terrorist organisations. To go even further, they have seats in their parliaments, too.”
Sweden has a large Kurdish diaspora, and prominent Swedish citizens of Kurdish origin currently include six members of parliament. The Turkish authorities have not provided any evidence for claims that the parliamentarians have links with the PKK or similar groups outside Sweden.
The Kurdish-speaking population of Finland was estimated at just over 15,000 people as of 2020, less than 0.3% of the population.
Finland’s foreign minister, Pekka Haavisto, on Friday urged patience and called for a gradual approach in response to Turkey. “We need some patience in this type of process, it’s not happening in one day … Let’s take issues step by step,” he told reporters.
Finland’s prime minister, Sanna Marin, and president, Sauli Niinistö, on Thursday said the country “must apply for Nato membership without delay”. Government confirmation of the decision is expected on Sunday, with parliamentary assent likely early next week.
Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats will also decide whether to formally approve joining Nato on Sunday and are widely expected to drop decades of opposition to membership. Parliament will debate security issues on Monday.
The security review published on Friday did not make a recommendation, but said developing defense alliances outside existing structures was not realistic.
“Swedish Nato membership would raise the threshold for military conflicts and thus have a conflict-preventing effect in northern Europe,” said the country’s foreign minister, Ann Linde, presenting the report’s conclusions.
“The most important consequence of Swedish membership would be that Sweden would be a part of Nato’s collective security and included in security guarantees according to article 5 [of the alliance’s founding treaty],” she said.
Article 5, the cornerstone of the US-led defensive alliance, states that an attack on one Nato member is an attack on all and commits its current 30 members to defend each other in the event of armed aggression.
The Swedish report, due to be debated in parliament on Monday, noted that “within the framework of current cooperation, there is no guarantee that Sweden would be helped if it were the target of a serious threat or attack”.
The Expressen daily has reported that a special cabinet meeting will be called after Monday’s parliamentary debate, with the prime minister, Magdalena Andersson, likely to send Sweden’s membership application to Nato by the end of the day.
Not all the ruling Social Democrats’ party members are automatically in favour. “I think everybody would have wanted more time for this, because it’s a huge issue,” Stefan Löfven, the prime minister from 2014 to 2021, told Agence France-Presse.
Moscow has previously warned that Finnish and Swedish Nato membership would force it to “restore balance” by strengthening its defenses in the Baltic, including by deploying nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad, between Poland and Lithuania.
Linde noted that Finnish and Swedish Nato membership would be considered “negative” by Russia. She said neither country expected a “conventional military attack” in reaction but added that “an armed assault cannot be ruled out”.
The Swedish defense minister, Peter Hultqvist, said on Friday: “If Sweden chooses to seek Nato membership, there is a risk of a reaction from Russia. Let me state that, in such a case, we are prepared to deal with any counter-response.”
Public support for Nato membership in Finland, which shares an 810-mile (1,300km) border with Russia, has more than trebled to about 76% since Russia’s onslaught on Ukraine, and has risen to about 60% in Sweden.
The Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, has said both countries would be “welcomed with open arms” and that the accession process would be quick, although formal approval by all the alliance’s members could take several months.