Erdogan's Re-election May Ease Turkey's Opposition to Sweden's NATO Membership
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's victory in the Turkish presidential election is expected to have a positive impact on Turkey's stance towards Sweden's potential NATO membership. Erdogan, known for his Turkish nationalism and anti-terrorism rhetoric, has previously been a major obstacle to Sweden's inclusion in the alliance, particularly after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. However, with his renewed nationalist credentials and a secure re-election, Erdogan might be more inclined to mend ties with the United States and approve Sweden's NATO membership, similar to Finland's previous approval. This decision could unlock the sale of American F-16s and upgrade kits for Turkey's older models, which has been previously blocked by Congress due to concerns about Erdogan's ties to Russia and his crackdown on dissent.
Despite Erdogan's reliance on Russia for energy, trade, and financial support, his role as a power broker and his economic dependency on Russia may enable him to balance between his NATO allies and maintain relations with both Russia and Ukraine. Turkey's strategic importance as a major military contributor and its control over the Black Sea, a critical territory in Russia's conflict with Ukraine, further emphasizes Erdogan's role in the region.
While Erdogan's re-election may not significantly disrupt foreign policy, it could potentially lead to improved relations with the United States. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken's upcoming visits to Sweden and Finland aim to demonstrate U.S. support for their NATO membership and strengthen alliances. Erdogan's approval of Sweden's NATO membership could also serve Turkey's interests, including access to American military equipment and potential economic benefits.
However, Erdogan's victory may disappoint those hoping for a more Western-leaning and democratic Turkey. The country's drift away from democratic values and the rule of law may hinder progress in talks on EU accession. European countries will need to find new ways to engage with Turkey's more democratic opposition and address concerns regarding declining affinity with authoritarian partners such as Hungary, Serbia, and Poland.
Economic challenges, including stubbornly high inflation, will likely influence Erdogan's geopolitical decisions. With a need for investment and aid, he will seek to avoid Western sanctions on Russia, which could hamper major trade deals with Moscow. Consequently, Turkey is expected to ratify Sweden's NATO membership this year, potentially finalizing F-16 purchases from the U.S.
The approval of Sweden's NATO membership is crucial for maintaining a strong response to Russia's aggression and is seen as a victory against Vladimir Putin. Delays in the process could weaken the united front against Russia's actions in the region. Sweden and Finland both applied to join NATO last year, and while Finland received Erdogan's approval by making minor policy changes, Turkey's stance on Sweden's membership remains unresolved.
In summary, Erdogan's re-election is expected to have a positive impact on Turkey's opposition to Sweden's NATO membership. His nationalist credentials and potential improved relations with the United States may lead to the approval of Sweden's inclusion, benefiting both Turkey and the alliance. However, concerns about Turkey's authoritarian drift and economic challenges will continue to shape its foreign policy decisions.