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Sensemaker: Gobble gobble

Sensemaker: Gobble gobble

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Biden said the US would defend Taiwan militarily if it was invaded by China.
  • The UN said the number of displaced people has passed 100 million, including 8 million from Ukraine.
  • Manchester City came back from 2-0 down to beat Aston Villa 3-2 and win the English Premier League.

Gobble gobble

The most embarrassing of Putin’s failures since February is the mooted expansion of Nato to include Sweden and Finland. It is the exact opposite of what he was wanting to achieve by invading Ukraine, and impossible to hide from his own people. But Turkey’s President Erdogan is trying to prevent it happening.

Or is he?

The truth is more complex and more reassuring. Erdogan has a de facto veto over Nato expansion because it has to happen by consensus. In return for not using that veto he wants concessions on two fronts, while he walks a tightrope on a third.

Kurds. Erdogan’s public problem with Sweden and Finland joining Nato is that both give shelter to Kurdish exiles whom Turkey considers terrorists. The Scandinavians take a different view. They share the official position of the US and EU that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (the PKK) is a terrorist organisation, but they note that i) not all Kurds oppressed by Turkey’s increasingly autocratic regime are PKK members; ii) the Kurdish YPG played a central role in defeating Isis in Syria; and iii) their domestic Kurdish communities pose no threat to Ankara.

Erdogan wants a change in tone on the Kurdish question from Finland (which hosts around 30,000 Turks and Kurds) and especially Sweden (which hosts around 230,000) but is unlikely to insist on the return of named exiles. He is more worried about… 

Weapons. Turkey wants to use this crisis to get back into Nato’s Top Gun team. It wants F-35 fighters from the US but was dropped from the F-35 programme (even though it was a launch customer) for buying Russian S400 surface-to-air missiles in 2019. The Pentagon feared the Russian technicians who came with the rocket system would get a close-up look at America’s most advanced jet. Turkey was also barred from buying the F-16, and wants that ban lifted too. 

Russia. This is the tightrope. Russians love sunbathing in Turkey and Erdogan has a close personal relationship with Putin. His S400 purchase was above all an assertion that an independent Turkish foreign policy means freedom to buy anything from anyone, and Turkey’s recent role hosting Russian-Ukrainian ceasefire talks showed it’s still trusted by both sides. 


  • Erdogan has also cultivated ties with Crimea’s Muslim Tartar minority, which opposes Russian rule.
  • He wants Turkey to have its own relationships with Eastern European countries which likewise oppose Russian revanchism. 
  • He has continued to supply Ukraine with lethal Bayraktar drones which have proved so effective at slowing the Russian invasion.
  • And he knows allowing Sweden and Finland to join Nato would be the last straw for Moscow; no more comradely invites to the Kremlin.

Three senior Turkish officials who spoke to Bloomberg at the weekend said Ankara would agree to Nato expansion if its concerns about Kurdish militancy were taken on board and its military procurement goals were met.

They will be – most of them, at least. The war has created a new set of imperatives for Nato, and one is to find a way for Sweden and Finland to join. So in the end it will not only expand the alliance in the north but bind in Turkey more tightly in the south. 

To note:

  • Turkey’s complaints about Kurds are not synthetic. Its internal war with the PKK has cost 40,000 lives. Meanwhile, Sweden’s current prime minister, Magdalena Andersson, owes her slim majority to one Kurdish MP brought onside with a joint statement condemning Erdogan’s treatment of Kurds. The statement is accurate, but for Erdogan, it’s still personal.
  • Turkey cannot simply be bought off. An F-35 “bribe” on its own might succeed only in enraging Greece, locked in its own regional arms race with its neighbour. Nato could seek more access to the Black Sea for western warships as part of the deal, for example, to protect grain convoys from Russian ships and mines.
  • Sweden and Finland will drastically change Nato. Unlike most existing Nato members apart from the US and the UK, they are already militarily self-sufficient. Sweden is especially strong in the air; Finland in the Baltic and the Arctic. 

No wonder Biden says their Nato applications have America’s “full, total and complete backing”. Erdogan is not standing in their way. He’s just naming his price. 


Ask not what Sue Gray can do for you…

Matthew d’Ancona

The only certainty about the final report on partygate is that Johnson’s response will be inadequate. It is for others to stop the rot.


HSBC climate heresy
HSBC has suspended its global head of responsible investing after an extraordinary speech in which he said “climate change is not a financial risk that we need to worry about”. Stuart Kirk, a former FT journalist speaking at an FT conference, said in a barely veiled reference to Mark Carney, the former Bank of England governor who has since set up the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (Gfanz): “I completely get that at the end of your central bank career there are still many years to fill. You’ve got to say something. You’ve got to fly around the world to conferences. You’ve got to out-hyperbole the next guy.” Kirk said he took “a very, very financial and investment view” of responsible investing – and was speaking as oil and gas stocks leave others in the dust because of war and the post-pandemic demand surge. HSBC’s CEO said the bank wouldn’t be distracted by Kirk’s speech. Except that it will be. The FT says his remarks were cleared internally in advance.


How to rile Ukraine
Ukraine’s presidential chief of staff ruled out a ceasefire or any territorial concessions to Russia at the weekend after an NYT editorial enraged the government in Kyiv by arguing its leaders would have to make “painful territorial decisions” as the price of peace. The war had to end with “the complete restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty,” Andriy Yermak said. That would mean not only beating back Russia from its current lines in the Donbas, but retaking Crimea and the third of the Luhansk and Donetsk provinces that Russia already controlled through proxies before the invasion. So far the NYT’s view is shared more openly in France, Italy and Germany than in Washington, London and Warsaw, where leaders are publicly foursquare behind the Zelensky government’s war aims. But Zelensky himself has repeatedly said peace will only come through diplomacy. Keeping the country united may require constructive ambiguity about exactly what this means. 


Great Translation
Beijing is getting hot and bothered about a new online trend for translating the utterances of its state-backed media into English to give the world a better view of the propaganda it’s feeding its people, including in relation to the war in Ukraine. The Atlantic says the Great Translation Movement has acquired 150,000 followers since March, and reveals a Chinese media machine that blames the war on the US, profits from it at a distance and therefore has an interest in dragging it out. These Chinese-language reports and editorials have none of the nuances sometimes found in the English-language Global Times, which tries to project the image of Beijing as an honest broker between Russia and a dysfunctional West. Not that the GT is nuanced about the Great Translation Movement, which it calls a smear campaign. 

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Headlines about monkeypox outbreaks may recall January 2020, but there’s no need to rush out for toilet paper. Monkeypox is a viral zoonotic disease with symptoms similar to smallpox, but is clinically less severe. Although there isn’t currently a cure, symptoms are likely to clear up in two to four weeks. The World Health Organisation has reported 180 cases in this outbreak but no one has died. What’s clear is that it’s spreading beyond the 11 African countries where it’s endemic, and among people with no connections to those countries. Most cases are being reported by gay or bisexual men. This may just be because they are more likely than other groups to come forward to sexual health clinics when a rash begins to show, but it does indicate the virus is spreading through sexual contact. The UK Health Security Agency is advising high-risk contacts to self-isolate for 21 days and avoid immunosuppressed people, pregnant women and children under 12. One child is reportedly being treated in intensive care in London and a total of 20 cases have been reported in the UK. Don’t panic; do take care.

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Oz goes green
Three years of devastating wildfires alternating with catastrophic floods seem to have done for climate scepticism as a political force in Australia. At least for now. Anthony “Albo” Albanese was sworn in as prime minister this morning after leading the Labour Party to victory over Scott Morrison’s Liberals on Saturday with a promise of turning Australia into, among other things, a renewable energy superpower. It’s not clear yet whether Albanese will have an outright parliamentary majority. It is clear that he intends to get his country off the climate naughty step, where it has sat at multiple Cop conferences because of Morrison’s refusal to commit to steep emissions cuts. Labour actually lost vote share compared with the last election in 2019, but was helped to victory by the mainly urban Teal Independents – centre right fiscal conservatives who nonetheless want the planet to be liveable. 

The week ahead


23/5 – BBC director-general Tim Davie gives evidence to House of Lords’ BBC funding inquiry; former Wakefield MP Imran Khan appears for sentencing for sexually assaulting a 15-year old boy, 24/5 – Elizabeth Line opens in London three and a half years late, as the RMT union ballot closes on potentially the biggest rail strike in modern UK history; Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng and Ofgem chief exec Jonathan Brearley give evidence to business committee on cost of energy; health secretary Sajid Javid speaks at Onward’s Restitch conference, 25/5 – Nicola Sturgeon becomes Scotland’s longest-serving first minister; Top Gun: Maverick released in UK cinemas 36 years after the original, 26/5 – House of Lords to address Queen Elizabeth ahead of jubilee next week; official figures for the number of 16-24-year olds not in education, employment or training released; Hay Literary Festival begins, Jeremy Hunt to speak, 27/5 – MCM London comic con opens; Sex Pistols release reissued God Save the Queen track for jubilee, 28/5 – Rugby League challenge cup final 


23/5 – EU general affairs council meets in Brussels; WHO director-general delivers address on day two of World Health Assembly in Geneva; European Space Agency holds living planet symposium in Bonn; Bill Cosby trial begins in LA on accusations he sexually abused Judy Huth in 1974, 24/5 – ”Quad” leaders (of Japan, US, India and Australia) meet in Tokyo; Ursula von der Leyen and Jens Stoltenberg speak at World Economic Forum in Davos, 25/5 – Twitter AGM; Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and UN secretary-general António Guterres meet in Ankara; second anniversary of the death of George Floyd, 26/5 – Ascension day; Charlemagne Award for European unity awarded in Germany; G7 environment, climate and energy ministers meet in Berlin; Alibaba Group results, 27/5 –  Nato parliamentary assembly begins spring session in Vilnius; 28/4 – Uefa Champions League between Liverpool and Real Madrid; winners of the Palme d’Or awards announced at Cannes, 29/5 – Presidential election in Colombia

Thanks for reading. Please share this around and tell us what we’ve missed. News tips and story ideas are welcome. Email them to sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Giles Whittell

With additional reporting by Phoebe Davis.

Photographs Getty Images

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