BRUSSELS – Continuing to flip-flop, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has further tilted toward Turkey over Greece as the two countries wrangle over sovereignty of the seas, and now he has supported Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s push to keep Finland and Sweden out of the alliance.
Those two countries – like Greece – are members of the European Union that Turkey has fruitlessly been trying to join since 2005, prospects worsening under Erdogan’s autocratic rule.
Erdogan – who refused to accept EU sanctions over Russia for the invasion of Ukraine – said that Sweden and Finland harbor terrorists and Stoltenberg said there was reason to believe that, lessening their hopes of joining.
Speaking during a visit to Finland – which borders Russia and is keen on getting into NATO for alleged protection – the former premier of Norway said that, “These are legitimate concerns. This is about terrorism, it’s about weapons exports,” his words a likely surprise to other alliance members.
He didn’t mention that Erdogan has said that Greece also harbors terrorists and it wasn’t said if the NATO chief would say that was a legitimate concern after he earlier noted Turkish violations of Greek airspace with fighter jets.
But Stoltenberg also said that Turkey is a “valuable ally,” and while meeting Finnish President Sauli Niinisto the NATO chief used the name Turkiye which Turkey has adopted, and preferred by Erdogan.
The Turkish President, after buying Russian-made S-400 missile defense systems that undermine the security of NATO and could be used against Greece in a conflict, said he would veto Sweden and Finland’s bids.
He has accused them of supporting and harboring Kurdish militants and other groups it deems terrorists, the same claims he made against Greece and as Stoltenberg admitted he wants no part of the Greece-Turkey battling and refused to intervene over violations of Greek airspace.
Stoltenberg said Turkey was a key ally for the alliance due to its strategic location on the Black Sea between Europe and the Middle East, and cited the support it has provided to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion.
“We have to remember and understand that no NATO ally has suffered more terrorist attacks than Turkiye,” Stoltenberg said, using the Turkish pronunciation of the country’s name that was approved by the United Nations for immediate use.
Despite Erdogan’s threat of a veto, Stoltenberg and Niinisto said talks with Turkey would continue but gave no indication of progress in the negotiations.
“The summit in Madrid was never a deadline,” Stoltenberg said, referring to a NATO meeting in Madrid at the end of June.