STOCKHOLM (MEMO) – Sweden has reaffirmed its decision to distance itself from Kurdish militant groups in its bid to join NATO, as it attempts to secure Turkey’s approval to join the military alliance.
Earlier this year, Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO as a result of the conflict in Ukraine and the potential threat it would pose to them. While that bid was approved by 28 of the alliance’s 30 member states, Turkey and Hungary refused to approve it.
Ankara has vowed to block Stockholm’s application if it doesn’t cease support for the Kurdish militant group in Syria, the so-called People’s Protection Units (YPG), and its political branch the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Turkey insists are directly linked with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
The PKK is designated as a terrorist group by the Turkish and some other countries, as well as the European Union. Despite the alleged links the Kurdish militants have with that group, Western nations have given support for the YPG for the alleged purpose of continuing the fight against Daesh.
Speaking to the public service broadcaster Swedish Radio, Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom acknowledged that “there is too close a connection between these organizations and the PKK…for it to be good for the relationship between us and Turkey,” stressing that “the primary objective is Sweden’s membership in NATO.”
Billstrom’s assurance that his country will distance itself from the Kurdish militants – the extent of which is yet to be seen – came only days before Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristersson is set to travel to Ankara and meet with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an attempt to persuade him to support Sweden’s bid to join the NATO alliance.
On Thursday this week, NATO’s secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg himself visited Turkey to try to convince the government to accept Stockholm and Helsinki into the alliance, saying the countries “have delivered” on their guarantees and that “it’s time to welcome Finland and Sweden as full members of NATO”.