Ankara’s far-right AKP Party has spent the last decade and a half undermining NATO in particular and democratic values in general.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis spoke to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday following his meeting with US President Joe Biden on Monday. The important visit comes as Greco-American relations are reaching new heights. Greece is a positive and important member of NATO.
Meanwhile, Turkey has threatened Sweden and Finland for seeking to join NATO, undermining the alliance and illustrating how Ankara’s authoritarian regime has more in common with Russia than other NATO countries.
Greece says it fully supports Sweden’s and Finland’s plans to join NATO, according to recent comments by its foreign minister. “Greece has excellent relations with these two countries, which are also members of the European Union,” Nikos Dendias said in Berlin over the weekend. “The Greek side has a very clear stance – we are ready to welcome Sweden and Finland to the NATO family’ we believe they have much to offer,” he said, according to reports.
Ankara’s far-right AKP Party has spent the last decade and a half undermining NATO in particular and democratic values in general. After jailing opposition members of parliament and independent media personnel, it has often threatened European countries. Turkey also backs extremists in Syria and hosts Hamas terrorists.
In the last two years, after receiving support from the Trump administration for its growing authoritarianism, the leadership in Ankara have said they want reconciliation with countries they have threatened. For instance, the regime has in the past compared Israel to Nazi Germany but now it has hosted Israel’s president. Nevertheless this has not changed the overall posture of Ankara in relation to Europe and NATO. Turkey is purchasing Russia’s S-400 system and is generally at odds with NATO countries.
NOW TURKEY is trying to flex its muscles regarding the desire by Finland and Sweden to join the defensive alliance. It knows it can veto their membership and is seeking to blackmail NATO into getting more things for itself. This could mean getting support for the shelling of civilian areas of Syria and more ethnic-cleansing of Kurds and Yazidis, as well as Ankara’s desire for dissidents in Europe to be deported.
Turkey has kidnapped dissidents abroad in illegal renditions and has also allegedly assassinated dissidents in France. Ankara claims it is merely going after “terrorists,” but its use of the word “terrorist” applies to anyone who supports democracy, gay rights, women’s rights, or even critiques the rule of the AKP.
There is no evidence that there is any “terrorist” threat to Turkey today, yet Ankara invaded Afrin in Syria in 2018 and has been bombing northern Iraq for years, claiming to fight “terrorists.”
Ankara’s latest demand is that Stockholm and Helsinki not back “terrorists.” There is no evidence that Sweden and Finland actually host or back extremists, but Turkey’s real desire is to see any opposition voices in those countries silenced. If it can’t get that, it wants more weapons from the US or other countries in Europe.
For instance, Turkey has been angered that some countries have cut off weapon sales or components that it needs for its arms industry. It also doesn’t want any more critique from the two Scandinavian countries regarding its human rights abuses.
Turkey has used its power over Europe in the past to blackmail NATO and the EU. For instance, it has threatened to “open the gates” for mass immigration to Greece and other states if it doesn’t get billions in dollars in support and also get support for invasions of Syria and attacks on Kurdish minorities.
This kind of policy worked well for Turkey when Angela Merkel was in charge in Germany because she preferred authoritarian regimes such as Ankara and wanted to see more German arms sales.
But Turkey has received the cold shoulder in recent years. When it threatened France with extremist attacks, the French government was non-plussed. While countries like Greece and Cyprus don’t want more tensions with their Mediterranean maritime neighbor, they have been willing to stand up to threats in the past.
NOW NATO may be at a crossroads. UK leader Boris Johnson has said of the Finland and Sweden applications to join the Western military alliance: “This is a historic day for our alliance & the world. Not long ago, nobody would have predicted this step, but Putin’s appalling ambitions have transformed the geopolitical contours of our continent. I look forward to welcoming Finland & Sweden into the NATO family very soon.”
NATO leader Jens Stoltenberg has also said that he was “honored to receive the applications for Finland’s and Sweden’s membership in NATO. This is a good day at a critical time for our security. Your applications are a historic step.” In the past, both the UK and the head of NATO have felt the need to coddle Ankara’s behavior.
The concern regarding Ankara is often posited in “geopolitical” terms. The argument is that Turkey can balance Russia and that it is both an Asian and European power at the crossroads of the Middle East. As such, it is a strategic necessity. That means it gets what it wants – up to a degree.
The argument also says that if the West is not nice to it and doesn’t appease it, then the strategically important country and its far-right leadership will join Russia, Iran, China and other authoritarian extremist regimes and ally against the West. In this sense, the reality of Turkey’s aggression is well known. The assertion is that it must be appeased and that it can be used against Moscow.
Turkey reads these comments in Western media, and even funds think tanks that write about its importance – and it knows it can squeeze the West via blackmail. Ankara has an active lobby in Washington, deep influence at several think tanks, and friends in Western legacy media that it peddles stories to explain its views. As such, the Turkish regime, which normally might be treated as a pariah, not unlike Russia, is often getting fake praise from the West as an “ally” even though most leaders know it is not one.
When Turkey’s president went to DC in 2017, his security personnel attacked peaceful protesters. This is the face of Turkey’s regime. In contrast, Greece is welcomed in Congress and is seen as a true peace partner that is building relationships and taking a leadership role.
The US has to pretend to listen to Turkey so it sends the deputy Secretary of State to listen to Ankara’s shouting. Overall though, it is clear that the Turkish regime is not a partner and that its claims against Sweden and Finland are doing historic harm to NATO.
The question is whether Ankara will climb down from opposition or whether it may be given some small concessions to save face. If it actively works to block the two new countries, it could find that the endless tolerance it has received in the past for its behavior is reduced as countries realize that Turkey is not being helpful at this crucial juncture.