Vilnius, Lithuania —
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday he is “absolutely confident” Turkey will ratify Sweden’s accession to NATO and that alliance leaders gathered for a two-day summit in Lithuania’s capital will “send a very strong and positive message” about Ukraine’s own desire to join.
Stoltenberg said the NATO summit in Vilnius “is already historic before it has started” after talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yielded a breakthrough in a months-long impasse during which Erdogan accused Stockholm of not doing enough to crack down on their branch of a political party that Turkey’s government sees as extremists.
Erdogan pledged to support the approval of Sweden’s bid in Turkey’s parliament, while Hungary, the other remaining NATO member yet to give its approval in a process that must be unanimous, is expected to follow suit.
In what appeared to be a last-ditch parry on the eve of the summit, Erdogan linked the Sweden issue with Ankara’s stalled demands to join the European Union.
“The United States has always supported (Turkey’s) EU membership aspirations and continues to do so. (Turkey’s) membership application and process is a matter between the EU and (Turkey),” a National Security Council spokesperson told VOA. The official asked not to be identified, as is common practice when discussing administration policy. “Our focus is on Sweden, which is ready to join the NATO Alliance.”
U.S. President Joe Biden, who is set to meet with Erdogan late Tuesday at the end of the first day of the summit, welcomed news of Turkey’s support for Sweden.
“I stand ready to work with (Turkish) President (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan and (Turkey) on enhancing defense and deterrence in the Euro-Atlantic area,” Biden said in a statement issued from Vilnius, where he is attending the summit of NATO leaders. “I look forward to welcoming Prime Minister Kristersson and Sweden as our 32nd NATO Ally.”
Sweden and Finland applied jointly for membership last May, with both Nordic nations citing overwhelming popular support for the idea amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Finland’s membership was finalized in April.
Defense spending and Ukraine
The summit still has important issues to cover in a short time. Those include whether the members can agree on — and then meet — a commitment to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense. Currently, only seven members fulfill that target.
Another key agenda is Ukraine’s ambition to join NATO, which allies in 2008 agreed in principle would happen without setting up a pathway for Ukraine’s membership.
Stoltenberg said Tuesday that he had put forth a package during an informal NATO foreign ministers meeting in May that included removing the requirement for a membership action plan in Ukraine’s bid.
Biden has candidly admitted there is no consensus within the alliance about admitting Ukraine. The U.S. is reluctant to grant quick membership for Kyiv for fear of dragging NATO into war with Russia.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said he accepts that his country can only join after the conflict with Russia ends. Membership in the midst of a war would require the alliance to apply the principle of “an attack on one is an attack on all” enshrined in the bloc’s Article 5.
Still, Zelenskyy has demanded a clear pathway to join the alliance, and during the two-day summit, NATO members will aim to nail down a compromise that will signal that Kyiv is moving closer to membership without making promises of a quick accession.
Some NATO allies, including the U.S., U.K. and France, are set to come up with proposals to strengthen Ukraine’s armed forces, including its postwar needs, through a series of long-term commitments outside the NATO framework.
The so-called security guarantees are going to be done in “extremely close coordination, given how high the stakes are,” however it will be “different from having an Article 5 agreement to defend Ukraine,” said Leslie Vinjamuri, director of the U.S. and Americas program at Chatham House, to VOA.
Following the two-day summit, Biden heads to Helsinki on Thursday to meet with leaders of Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Denmark. Once Sweden has joined NATO, all five Nordic countries will be members of the military alliance.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters