Erdogan asks parliament to vote on Finland's NATO bid

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a joint press conference with the Lebanese Prime Minister at the Presidential Complex in Ankara on February 1, 2022. PHOTO | AFP

Ankara .Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ended months of delays on Friday and asked parliament to vote on Finland's bid to join the NATO defence bloc.

Erdogan's announcement following talks with his visiting Finnish counterpart raises the chances that the Nordic nation will join the US-led defence alliance without its neighbour Sweden.

Finland and Sweden ended decades of military non-alignment and decided to join the US-led defence alliance in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Their applications were accepted at a June NATO summit that signalled the Western world's desire to stand up to Russia in the face of Europe's gravest conflict since World War II.

But the bids still needed to be ratified by all 30 of the alliance members' parliaments -- a process that got hung up once it reached the turn of Turkey and Hungary.

Friday's breakthrough raises the chances of Finland formally becoming the 31st member of NATO at an alliance summit scheduled for July in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.

Erdogan told Finnish President Sauli Niinisto that Helsinki had shown a strong commitment to addressing Ankara's security concerns.

"We decided to start the protocol of Finland's accession to NATO in our parliament," Erdogan told reporters after the talks.

"I hope that it will be done before the elections" in May.

- Swedish delay -

Erdogan had accused the Nordic neighbours of breaking the terms of a separate deal they reached in June 2022 under which Turkey agreed to approve the bids.

Turkey has sought the extradition of dozens of Kurdish and other suspects it accuses of ties to outlawed militants and a failed 2016 coup attempt.

Erdogan's demands became more urgent as he neared a May election in which he will need a strong turnout from his nationalist supporters to extend his two-decade rule.

The Turkish leader voiced particular displeasure with Sweden -- a country with a larger Kurdish diaspora and a longer history of disputes with Ankara.

Finland and Sweden had initially resisted the idea of breaking up their bids.

But Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson acknowledged on Tuesday that the likelihood of Finland joining NATO on its own had "increased".

The Finnish president called Erdogan's decision Friday "very important for the whole of Finland".

But he added: "Finland's application is not complete without Sweden."

The talks in Ankara put more pressure on Hungary's parliament to end its own ratification delays.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban enjoys a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and has numerous disputes with both NATO and the European Union.

The Hungarian parliament began debating the two NATO bids at the beginning of the month.

Hungary is to vote on Finland's NATO bid on March 27, a Hungarian government spokesperson Zoltan Kovacs said Friday.