As the first day of the Vilnius NATO summit drew to a close on Monday, Secretary General Jens Stoltenburg said Turkey and Sweden found a “middle ground” in the implementation of President Erdoğan’s demands for the clamp down on the presence of Kurdish groups in the Nordic country, in return for ratification of the Swedish bid to join the transatlantic alliance.
“Sweden reiterates that it will not provide support to YPG/PYD,” NATO confirmed. The Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG/PYD) are groups that are known for their role in leading the 2014 fight against ISIS in northern Syria, and closely affiliated with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).
No new agreements were made during the first day of the annual gathering, Stoltenburg said, reiterating that the “only thing” that has happened at Vilnius is the implementation of agreements made a year ago at the NATO summit in Madrid over Turkey’s “legitimate” concerns over terrorism.
“The whole concept that Kristersson or Erdoğan have ‘changed their mind’ is wrong,” Stoltenburg said. He went onto explain that there has been a reconciliation of concerns, and the middle ground was found in accordance with agreements made in a trilateral memorandum in 2022. “We have now included in the text how to implement -how to step-up- the fight against terrorism,” he said.
A year ago, after Sweden and Finland were invited to join NATO to strengthen the alliance as Russia invaded Ukraine, Erdoğan seized the moment to make a series of demands to the Scandinavian countries in order to receive Turkey’s critical backing. Forcing the hand of Sweden and Finland to help eradicate opposition groups was part of the deal.
Since then, Finland has become a full NATO member and although Sweden paid lip service to Erdoğan’s demands over the last few months, a full implementation was not developed. Now this looks set to change. As the need to provide defence to Ukraine builds, tensions rise over the nature of NATO’s direct involvement with the war, and the bloc’s need to ensure Turkey’s ratification of Sweden’s accession ever greater.
“Since the last NATO Summit… Sweden has amended its constitution, changed its laws, significantly expanded its counter- terrorism cooperation against the PKK, and resumed arms exports to Turkey,” NATO announced.
United States President Joe Biden commended Monday’s breakthrough, noting Erdoğan’s commitment to promptly present the Accession Protocol for Sweden to Turkey’s Grand National Assembly for ratification.
While Stoltenburg described the newfound common ground “historic”, public reactions have been mixed with experts questioning what the terms will mean in practice.
Some analysts suggest that President Erdoğan could have made compromises at Vilnius that could effectively positively impact Kurdish activists living in Sweden, others argue that Monday’s announcement will be difficult news for Kurds and their supporters.
Stoltenburg said that implementation involved the creation of a new roadmap for the “continued fight against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.” Despite many courts in Europe deeming that the PKK should not be considered a terrorist threat, but rather a legitimate freedom movement, supporters living in Sweden are likely to fear a further ramping up of pressure.