Sweden ‘must cut ties’ with Kurdish militia in Syria, says Turkish envoy
Turkey’s veto on Sweden joining Nato can only be overcome by severing YPG links, says ambassador to Stockholm
Sweden must cut its ties with a Syrian Kurdish militia or Turkey will continue to block its application to Nato, Ankara’s ambassador to Stockholm has warned amid a deepening crisis over the Scandinavian country’s bid to join the transatlantic defence alliance. Emre Yunt told the Financial Times that severing links with the People’s Protection Units (YPG) was “the most important” of Turkey’s demands after president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stunned his Nato allies by saying he could not accept the membership of Sweden and Finland due to their support for groups that Turkey views as terrorists. Erdoğan, who on Wednesday blocked Nato’s initial decision to process requests by the two Nordic countries to join the military alliance, lambasted them for refusing Turkish requests to extradite 30 people accused of having links to terror groups. On Thursday, he singled out Sweden as a “total terrorism centre, a nest of terrorism”. Yunt said that Ankara wanted Stockholm, seen by Turkish officials as a bigger problem than Helsinki, to go further. “They have to cut their ties with YPG,” he added. “That is the most important.” The YPG is an armed Kurdish militia that spearheaded the campaign against Isis in Syria, after the jihadi group seized swaths of territory in 2014 and led terror attacks throughout Europe. It received weapons and training from the US-led anti-Isis coalition, which was supported by troops from Sweden.
But the YPG also has close links to the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), which has waged a bloody armed struggle against the Turkish state since the 1980s and is recognised as a terrorist organisation by Sweden as well as the EU and the US. Western support for groups that are affiliated with it has long been a source of anger in Turkey, both among officials and the public. Swedish officials have previously argued that Syrian Kurdish forces played a crucial role in the fight against Isis and are important to the stability of Syria. But Yunt, who has served as Turkey’s ambassador to Stockholm since 2017, said that Ankara was angry that the Swedish defence minister and other senior officials had held discussions with YPG commanders in recent years. “They are claiming that this group is fighting with Daesh,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for Isis. “But Daesh doesn’t exist any more.” Overnight, Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said the top US diplomat Antony Blinken assured him that he would convey Turkey’s “legitimate security concerns” to Sweden and Finland. “It’s unacceptable that countries that want to be candidates support terrorist groups that target us, said Çavuşoğlu. “This isn’t just political support. For example, Sweden also provides weapons supposedly to fight against Isis. They attack us with these weapons. Our security officers, our soldiers, our civilians are martyred with these weapons.” Ankara’s demands pose a dilemma for Sweden as it strives to unblock its bid for Nato membership without being seen at home as making too many concessions to Turkey’s authoritarian president. Stockholm’s Social Democrat government faces tough parliamentary elections in September and has already created tension with the left of its party and the ex-communists by signing up to Nato. The country has a significant Kurdish diaspora and there is widespread sympathy for the Kurdish cause. “There is a delicate political and diplomatic balance to be struck between meeting Turkish demands and not alienating the internal base of the party in advance of elections in September,” said Paul Levin, director of Stockholm University’s Institute for Turkish Studies.
Swedish prime minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish president Sauli Niinistö hope that US president Joe Biden, whom they are meeting at the White House on Thursday, can unblock the process. Some analysts have suggested that Turkey could be hoping to pressure the US into granting approval for its request to buy new F-16 fighter jets. But Yunt said Turkey’s stance on Sweden had “nothing to do with our relations with the United States”. Andersson repeated on Tuesday that she wanted to speak to Erdoğan and promised a new chapter in relations between the two countries. Yunt warned, however, that “talking to us without changing their policy will not achieve anything”. Asked to comment on the Turkish demand, Sweden’s foreign ministry said: “A series of diplomatic efforts is under way. We have no further comment.”
Source: Financial Times
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