(Madrid) Turkey agreed Tuesday to lift its opposition to Sweden and Finland joining NATO, a breakthrough in an impasse clouding a leaders’ summit in Madrid amid Europe’s worst security crisis in decades triggered by the war in Ukraine.
After urgent top-level talks, alliance Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said “we now have an agreement that paves the way for Finland and Sweden to join NATO.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted Sweden and Finland to abandon their long-held nonaligned status and apply to join NATO. However, Recep Tayyip Erdan, Turkey’s President, resisted the idea and demanded that the Nordic countries change their position on Kurdish rebels groups Turkey regards as terrorists.
Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said the three countries’ leaders signed a joint agreement after talks on Tuesday.
Turkey said it had “got what it wanted” including “full cooperation … in the fight against” the rebel groups.
The agreement comes at the opening of a crucial summit dominated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. For the next few years, the summit will be the foundation for NATO. The summit was kicking off with a leaders’ dinner hosted by Spain’s King Felipe VI at the 18th-century Royal Palace of Madrid.
Continue reading: Don’t Let Turkish President Erdogan Bully NATO Like He Bullies Everyone Else
Stoltenberg said the meeting would chart a blueprint for the alliance “in a more dangerous and unpredictable world.”
“To be able to defend in a more dangerous world we have to invest more in our defense,” Stoltenberg said. Just nine of NATO’s 30 members meet the organization’s target of spending 2% of gross domestic product on defense. Spain hosts the summit and spends only half of that amount.
In meetings on Wednesday and Thursday, the top agenda item for leaders is to strengthen defenses against Russia as well as support Ukraine.
Biden, who arrived with the aim of stiffening the resolve of any wavering allies, said NATO was “as united and galvanized as I think we have ever been.”
Moscow’s invasion on Feb. 24 shattered European security and brought shelling of cities and bloody ground battles back to the continent. NATO, having begun to focus on terrorist threats and non-state actors, now must confront Russia.
“Ukraine now faces a brutality which we haven’t seen in Europe since the Second World War,” Stoltenberg said.
Continue reading: How NATO Is Responding to Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine
Diplomats and leaders from Turkey, Sweden and Finland earlier held a flurry of talks in an attempt to break the impasse over Turkey’s opposition to expansion. The three countries’ leaders met for more than two hours alongside Stoltenberg on Tuesday before the agreement was announced.
Erdogan is critical of what he considers the lax approach of Sweden and Finland toward groups that Ankara deems national security threats, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and its Syrian extension. Turkey has been furious for many years over American support of Syrian Kurdish fighters fighting the Islamic State group.
Turkey has demanded that Finland and Sweden extradite wanted individuals and lift arms restrictions imposed after Turkey’s 2019 military incursion into northeast Syria.
NATO leaders will be able to concentrate on the key issue of an aggressive and increasingly unpredictable Russia by putting an end to this impasse.
A Russian missile strike Monday on a shopping mall in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk was a grim reminder of the war’s horrors. Some people saw it as an indication from Moscow, since the Group of Seven leaders were meeting in Germany just before NATO.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is due to address NATO leaders by video on Wednesday, called the strike on the mall a “terrorist” act.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko traveled to Madrid to urge the alliance to provide his country with “whatever it takes” to stop the war.
“Wake up, guys. It’s happening right now. You are going to be next, this is going to be knocking on your door just in the blink of an eye,” Klitschko told reporters at the summit venue.
Stoltenberg said Monday that NATO allies will agree at the summit to increase the strength of the alliance’s rapid reaction force nearly eightfold, from 40,000 to 300,000 troops. The troops will be based in their home nations, but dedicated to specific countries on NATO’s eastern flank, where the alliance plans to build up stocks of equipment and ammunition.
Below the surface there are tensions between NATO and Ukraine over the end of the war.
There are also differences on how hard a line to take on China in NATO’s new Strategic Concept — its once-a-decade set of priorities and goals. The last document, published in 2010, didn’t mention China at all.
The new concept is expected to set out NATO’s approach on issues from cybersecurity to climate change — and the growing economic and military reach of China, and the rising importance and power of the Indo-Pacific region. The summit will be attended by the New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, Japan and Australia leaders.
Some European members are wary of the tough U.S. line on Beijing and don’t want China cast as an opponent.
NATO has declared Russia to be its top threat in the Strategic Concept.
Russia’s state space agency, Roscosmos marked the summit’s opening by releasing satellite images and coordinates of the Madrid conference hall where it is being held, along with those of the White House, the Pentagon and the government headquarters in London, Paris and Berlin.
The agency said NATO was set to declare Russia an enemy at the summit, adding that it was publishing precise coordinates “just in case.”
Sylvie Korbet and Ciaran Giles contributed to this article from Madrid.
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