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Turkey’s President Erdoğan is the real winner of the Nato summit

Turkey’s President Erdoğan is the real winner of the Nato summit

Long stories short

  • A man collapsed and died in the heat in Italy, where temperatures could reach 48.8C in the coming days.
  • Junior doctors in England began an unprecedented five-day strike in an ongoing pay dispute.
  • Burger King released a “no-meat” burger in Thailand, substituting the meat with 20 slices of American cheese.

Nato’s wheeler-dealer

Joe Biden will conclude his five-day trip to Europe today standing alongside Nordic leaders in the Finnish capital Helsinki. Finland became Nato’s newest member earlier this year, while Turkey dropped its objections to Sweden joining the alliance at this week’s summit in Vilnius.  

So what? The circle is almost complete. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has pushed Finland and Sweden into the Western military alliance’s arms. The Baltic Sea is now a Nato Lake in all but name. But in some ways, the real winner of this week’s conference wasn’t Zelensky – who secured “enduring” security guarantees from the G7 – or even Sweden. It was Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Bazaar dealing. Since the 2015 migrant crisis, Erdoğan has proved himself the master dealer, leveraging concessions from the EU with the threat of more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees within Turkey’s borders.

  • While Turkey is a full member of Nato, it has close links to Russia.
  • Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Erdoğan has played a careful balancing game. Russian money and intelligentsia have flooded in, trying to escape first sanctions and then conscription, boosting Turkey’s shaky economy.  

After an earthquake killed more than 50,000 people in February and exposed the lax regulations underpinning the country’s construction boom, it looked like Erdoğan would fall in May’s general election. Somehow, he survived.

Choke point. Sweden’s accession to Nato was something Western powers were desperate to secure. Erdoğan saw a pressure point where he could push until the rewards were just too great to refuse:

  • The US agreed to send Turkey 40 F-16 fighter jets (worth $20 billion), which Ukraine has been begging for over more than 500 days of war.  
  • Canada will probably scrap an arms embargo initially put in place in 2019 because of Turkey’s military antics in Syria.
  • Sweden has launched investigations into Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) members and is working closely with Turkish security agencies to track funding of the armed group. 

Home front. Erdoğan still has immense problems to face at home.

  • The Turkish lira is in a bad way.
  • Turkey almost doubled interest rates last month to 15 per cent as part of a bid to bring down inflation, currently running at around 40 per cent.
  • Erdoğan has brought in mainstream financial figures to reassure international investors, but still seems to hold to his unorthodox view that cutting interest rates is the way to bring down inflation.

He will be hoping for more cooperation with the EU. He extracted vague commitments to “re-energise” his country’s strained relationship with the bloc, with prospects of meetings to discuss visa-free travel for Turks. But EU membership dangled in front of Turkey in the early 2000s isn’t seriously on the cards.  

Lac d’Nato. Sweden is a worthy addition to Nato. Unlike Paris or London, Stockholm doesn’t have to maintain expensive foreign bases or nuclear submarines. Like Finland, its military is built for one thing – stopping the Russian war machine in its tracks.

While Helsinki has concentrated on massive artillery and troop build-ups, Sweden has gone down the high-tech, stealth route. It has: 

  • Three top-of-the-line mechanised brigades equipped with upgraded German Leopard 2 battle tanks and more than 100,000 troops. 
  • Three Gotland-class attack submarines, widely regarded as the stealthiest in existence. (Even the US military failed to detect them in military drills). 
  • The strategic island fortress of Gotland slap bang in the middle of the Baltic.

Erdoğan says Turkey’s parliament won’t ratify Sweden’s accession until October. He’s probably playing for time, and may come up with new demands. The West has learned that Erdoğan never gives something up for free. 

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Photograph Andrej Isakovic/ AFP via Getty Images

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