Turkey will approve Sweden’s NATO membership, but it’s not expected to happen before October. There is only a small chance that Erdoğan will rush it through parliament next week, the last week the parliament is in session before the summer recess: it will only happen if the US approves the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey first. It seems that Kurds play a role in this, just as in the demand from Turkey to extradite Kurdish Swedes to make NATO accession possible, but once again, the whole dynamic shows Kurds still have no friends.
Erdoğan made international headlines early this week when a day before the NATO summit in Vilnius started, he forged a deal to approve Sweden’s NATO membership. Was that unexpected? Hard to say about an unpredictable leader who has taken pragmatism to a new level, but it does indicate that his resistance against Swedish membership was partly for domestic use. Once he won the elections, he became more malleable. On the other hand, it was a surprise, because Sweden’s membership application is the trump card in Erdoğan’s hand. NATO and Sweden want it so badly, Erdoğan would be a fool to give it away too easily.
In other words: a handshake with Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg is not the same as the official approval of Turkey’s parliament. Sweden is not a member until it is a member.
One way ticket
Once Sweden is a member, will Kurds in Sweden be off the hook? They have been weaponized in this diplomatic power play, and several Kurds have indeed been extradited by Sweden to Turkey, which considers Kurds who support the Kurdish freedom movement as ‘terrorist’. The Kurdish community in Sweden has lived in fear about who would be next on the list for a possible one way ticket to a Turkish prison.
At first glance, it may look like this stress will be over once Sweden is admitted to NATO, but that is wishful thinking. Sweden will then comply more than ever to the rules of the international alliances that dance to Turkey’s anti-terrorism tune. Giving up neutrality doesn’t lead to a new kind of neutrality, it leads to compliance. You only have to look at how the Kurdish community is increasingly put under pressure in several European countries, for example Germany, to know what I am talking about.
The evening before the NATO summit, Erdoğan suddenly started to link Sweden’s accession to Turkey’s EU membership, towards which the road should be opened, Erdoğan said. He could force that road to open by releasing some political prisoners but leaders chose to pay lip service to Erdoğan instead of bringing up Turkey’s democratic deficits. You can count on this summer turning into a new diplomatic power play, and I predict the ‘fight against terrorism’ and Turkey’s ‘legitimate security concerns’ will have a leading role.
But wait, didn’t a US senator say something hopeful about Turkey’s aggression against its neighbours? He did: US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Menendez commented on Turkey’s wish to obtain new F-16 fighter jets. Approval has been on hold, and Menendez has for months linked that to Turkey’s aggression against Greece and in collaboration with Azerbaijan against Nagorno-Karabagh, and aggression against the SDF in northeast Syria – after all, the SDF is the US ally against ISIS. Menendez has seen a ‘lull’ in Turkey’s aggression, he said, and wants guarantees that this aggression won’t commence again once it has obtained F-16’s.
Kurds applaud Menendez’s stance, but it remains to be seen if that is justified. For me, the ‘lull’ gives it away. There has been a ‘lull’ in aggression against Greece and in Nagorno-Karabagh, but not in violence against the SDF. On the contrary: recently, Turkey tried to kill SDF General Commander Mazloum Abdi. This indicates that the SDF will be a bargaining chip. The question is: will the US first approve the F-16 sales before Erdoğan will order the parliament to approve Sweden’s NATO membership, or will Turkey’s parliament have to approve of Sweden’s membership first to make the F-16 sales happen?
Whatever the exact dance between the different actors in this theatre will look like and who will lead and who will follow to which tune exactly, the inevitable outcome will be that the Kurds once again have no friends. Not besides the mountains, at least.