Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has signalled that Ankara could accept Finland into NATO before taking any action on the membership of its Nordic neighbour Sweden.
Erdogan was speaking just days after Ankara suspended NATO accession talks with the two countries after a protest in Stockholm in which a far-right politician burned a copy of the Quran.
“We may deliver Finland a different message [on their NATO application] and Sweden would be shocked when they see our message. But Finland should not make the same mistake Sweden did,” Erdogan said in a televised speech aired on Sunday.
Sweden and Finland applied last year to join NATO after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, dropping their longstanding military nonalignment.
Every member of the 30-nation alliance needs to approve their membership, and Turkey and Hungary are the only countries yet to have done so. The Hungarian parliament is expected to approve the bids in February.
Erdogan’s main complaint has been with Sweden’s refusal to extradite dozens of people that Ankara has linked to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and a failed 2016 coup attempt.
He is facing an election in May and has dug in his heels over Sweden’s NATO membership as he tries to energise his conservative and nationalist supporters.
On Sunday, Erdogan repeated his demand for Sweden to hand over some 120 alleged suspects.
“If you absolutely want to join NATO, you will return these terrorists to us,” Erdogan said.
“You will send these terrorists to us so that you can join NATO.”
Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson has said his country wants to restart NATO dialogue with Turkey.
Late on Saturday, the Turkish foreign ministry issued a travel warning for European countries over anti-Turkish demonstrations and what it described as Islamophobia.
The warning cited an increase in anti-Turkish protests by “groups with links to terror groups,” a reference to the PKK, which took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984.
Pro-Kurdish groups have waved the flags of the PKK and its affiliates during protests in Sweden organised as a response to Sweden and Finland’s promise to prevent PKK activities in their countries in order to secure Turkey’s approval for them to join NATO.
As part of that memorandum, Erdogan said Turkey had provided a list of 120 people it wants extradited from Sweden.