Recently, the Parliament and government of Hungary under the presidency of Viktor Orban approved a Finnish bid to be accepted into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a large military alliance that has existed since the end of World War II. However, both the Hungarian and Turkish governments have refused to accept the membership of Sweden, meaning that Sweden will be unable to join. This is because, to become a member of NATO, any aspiring country or state needs to meet several stringent criteria. Including the unanimous support of all current member-states of NATO, which currently sits at 30 member countries. Finland was able to get the support of the only two countries which opposed its membership (Turkey and Hungary), but Sweden has failed to garner the support of the aforementioned two opposition nations. Both countries cite similar reasons for their opposition to the membership of Sweden, revolving around their support of Kurdish and migrant causes from Southwest Asia and North Africa. Sweden is especially supportive of the Kurdistan region in Iraq and Syria, which has seen some heavy fighting between the historically opposed Kurdish and Turkish cultures. In fact, Turkey has launched several military offensives into Northern Syria in response to the expansion of a currently unrecognized independent Kurdish republic in that region, all while around 70 Swedish soldiers are currently acting as military advisors to Peshmerga, the official armed forces of the unrecognized autonomous region of Kurdistan in both Syria and Iraq.
A view of the Hungarian Parliament during its vote for the ratification of Finland to NATO on March 27, 2023 (Photo by Marton Monus/REUTERS)
This overt Swedish support of Kurdish causes has caused large amounts of controversy within Turkish politics. The best example of this was a rather hostile confrontation in 2020 between Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde and her Turkish counterpart, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, during a press conference held by the Turkish minister to elaborate on a prior meeting between the two. During the meeting, both exchanged words about issues relating to Northeast Syria, Idlib, and the European Union’s stance on Northeast Syria. The Turkish Minister stated that “using the word ‘urge’ in diplomacy is to look down on. You cannot say that.” This press conference showed the growing rift between Turkey and Sweden, with Sweden suspending arms sales to Turkey in 2019 over their military offensive into Northeast Syria that year. That means that Turkey and Sweden remain on rocky terms diplomatically, and many believe that Turkey is working in tandem with the Viktor Orban government in Hungary to prevent Sweden’s ascension to NATO unless they drop their stance on Kurdistan and other similar situations in Southwest Asia and beyond.
Turkish President Erdogan on the right with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson during a press conference in Ankara (Adam Alten/AFP/Getty Images)
Hungary has stated that they have unspecified “Grievances” with Sweden, with many speculating that it is over their rather open migration policy for people from Southwest Asian areas, which are still suffering from wars and destruction, like Syria and Iraq. Viktor Orban often espouses anti-migrant and anti-European Union rhetoric in his speeches and press conferences and also ran on an anti-migration platform when he ran for president in Hungary during the last elections there. Many in European politics also state that Orban is secretly pro-Russian, and there is some evidence to support this theory. At his “State of Hungary” address at the Varket Bazaar conference in Budapest on February 18th of this year, Orban vowed to retain ties between Hungary and Russia and also has thus far refused to send weapons to Ukraine during the Russian Invasion of that country. Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Orban had close personal and political ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin but criticized the invasion when it occurred. However, Orban has not criticized Putin directly, putting Hungary on an ambiguous stance around the war in Ukraine. Combined with the Turkish government’s already cold relationship with Sweden, Sweden will be unable to join NATO until they are able to win the votes of the two opposing countries, Hungary and Turkey.
Rudaw, ‘Sweden to double military advisors in Kurdistan’ 2016
Reuters, ‘Hungary says “grievances” hold up ratification of Sweden’s NATO accession’ 2023
France 24, ‘Hungarian parliament approves Finland’s NATO membership bid’ 2023
BBC, ‘Turkey’s Erdogan seals deal on Finland joining NATO’ 2023
Gazete Duvar, ‘The ‘Syria’ debate between Swedish Foreign Minister Linde and Çavuşoğlu’, 2020