Turkey has approved Finland’s bid to join NATO, ending a 10-month delay that had frustrated the Scandinavian country’s efforts to enhance its security amid Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the decision on Friday after meeting with his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto in Ankara.
“We have decided to start the protocol of Finland’s accession to NATO in our parliament,” Erdogan said at a joint press conference with Niinisto. “NATO will become stronger with Finland’s membership and thus, I believe, will play an active role in maintaining global security and stability.”
Finland had applied for NATO membership along with Sweden in May 2022, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. Both countries had remained neutral throughout the Cold War, but faced increasing pressure from their publics and allies to join the transatlantic alliance.
However, Turkey and Hungary were the only two NATO members that had not ratified their applications, citing concerns over their relations with Kurdish groups and other opposition forces that they consider terrorists. Turkey has demanded that Sweden extradite more than 120 members of Kurdish militant groups that have fled to its territory, while Hungary has accused Finland of hosting a radio station that broadcasts anti-government propaganda.
Erdogan said that Turkey had resolved its issues with Finland after it took “sincere and concrete steps” to address Ankara’s concerns. He did not elaborate on what those steps were, but said that Turkey would continue its discussions with Sweden on terrorism-related matters.
Finland agreed to extradite 12 alleged Kurdish fighters and coup plot suspects to Turkey under a deal that secured Turkish support for its NATO membership bid.
Niinisto welcomed Turkey’s move and thanked Erdogan for his support. He said that Finland was looking forward to joining NATO as soon as possible and contributing to its collective defense.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also praised Turkey’s decision and urged Hungary to follow suit. He said that both Finland and Sweden were strong and capable partners that shared NATO’s values and would strengthen the alliance and European security.
The White House also welcomed Turkey’s announcement and called on it to ratify Sweden’s bid as well. US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement that “the United States believes that both countries should become members of NATO as soon as possible.”
Turkey’s approval of Finland’s bid is expected to be a formality in parliament, where Erdogan’s party and its allies hold a majority. The vote is likely to take place before Turkey holds presidential and parliamentary elections on May 14.
Hungary has also indicated that it will ratify Finland’s application soon. Mate Kocsis, the leader of the ruling Fidesz party’s parliamentary group, said that Hungary’s legislature would vote on March 27 and that the majority ruling party bloc would unanimously support it.
However, Sweden may have to wait longer for its NATO membership, as Erdogan has shown no sign of easing his demands for extradition of Kurdish militants. Sweden has rejected Turkey’s requests as politically motivated and incompatible with human rights standards.
Sweden has also expressed solidarity with Finland over its NATO bid and said that it would not join the alliance without its neighbor. Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said last week that it was a question of when Sweden became a member, not if.