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Turkey approves Finland’s NATO bid, clearing path for it to join alliance

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks next to Finnish President Sauli Niinisto at the presidential palace in Ankara on March 17. (Burhan Ozbilici/AP)
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BRUSSELS — Turkey’s parliament has voted to approve Finland’s NATO membership bid, paving the way for the Nordic country to join the security alliance.

The decision only applies to Finland, not Sweden, its neighbor and fellow NATO hopeful. Both countries applied on the same day last year, having made the decision to join the alliance after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Thursday’s vote was the last hurdle in Finland’s quest to join the military organization. Its eventual accession would remake European security, doubling NATO’s land border with Russia and bringing the full force of the alliance to Europe’s far north.

How Putin’s brutal war in Ukraine pushed Finland toward NATO

Turkey was the last holdout among NATO member countries, which need to approve new members unanimously. Once it notifies the United States that it has approved Finland’s bid, Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of the alliance, will formally invite Finland to accede to the Washington Treaty, according to NATO.

Earlier this month, Erdogan said he would not back Swedish membership until he sees more “concrete steps” from the country on what he described as Stockholm’s refusal to extradite “terrorists” affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. NATO officials say Sweden has met the terms of an earlier agreement on the matter.

Why Turkey dissents on Finland and Sweden joining NATO and why it matters

In the meantime, Hungary entered the fray, ratifying Finland’s bid but saying it, too, will hold out on Sweden. In a blog post this week, Zoltan Kovacs, a spokesman for the Hungarian government, said his country has an “ample amount of grievances” against Sweden, including its “crumbling throne of moral superiority,” and needs time to address them.

Though most officials and analysts believe both countries will eventually back Sweden, the squabbling is taking up time and energy — all while Russia continues to wage war on Ukraine.

Turkey backs Finland for NATO membership, snubs Sweden

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said in a tweet after the vote, “Thank you to all countries for your support. As allies, we will give and receive security. We will defend each other. Finland stands with Sweden now and in the future and supports its application.”

“I welcome the vote of the Grand National Assembly of #Türkiye to complete the ratification of #Finland’s accession. This will make the whole #NATO family stronger & safer,” Stoltenberg tweeted.

The green light from Turkey’s parliament comes after Finnish officials traveled to Turkey earlier this month for discussions on the country’s membership bid, and Erdogan signaled his support. At a joint news conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, the Turkish leader credited Finland with taking “sincere and concrete steps” to fulfill security commitments it made to Turkey nearly a year ago at a NATO summit in Madrid.

“We decided to start the approval process of Finland’s NATO accession protocol in our parliament, based on the sensitivity and distance achieved by our country in addressing our security concerns,” Erdogan said in Ankara, adding that talks with Sweden would “continue on the basis of the principles of our alliance and our approach to the fight against terrorism.”

Finland and Sweden had planned to join NATO “hand in hand.” But opposition from Turkey for much of the last year appeared to catch the alliance by surprise and forced the prospective members to decouple their bids. Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson seemed to concede earlier this month that Finland would go first. “It is not excluded that Sweden and Finland will ratify in different steps,” he said.

Finland joining NATO will mark the end of the country’s decades-long tradition of military neutrality. Marin — who has led the country’s pivot toward NATO — and her government are fighting for reelection in what is expected to be a tight contest. Erdogan is up for reelection in May.

Timsit reported from London and Fahim from Istanbul.

One year of Russia’s war in Ukraine

Portraits of Ukraine: Every Ukrainian’s life has changed since Russia launched its full-scale invasion one year ago — in ways both big and small. They have learned to survive and support each other under extreme circumstances, in bomb shelters and hospitals, destroyed apartment complexes and ruined marketplaces. Scroll through portraits of Ukrainians reflecting on a year of loss, resilience and fear.

Battle of attrition: Over the past year, the war has morphed from a multi-front invasion that included Kyiv in the north to a conflict of attrition largely concentrated along an expanse of territory in the east and south. Follow the 600-mile front line between Ukrainian and Russian forces and take a look at where the fighting has been concentrated.

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Deepening global divides: President Biden has trumpeted the reinvigorated Western alliance forged during the war as a “global coalition,” but a closer look suggests the world is far from united on issues raised by the Ukraine war. Evidence abounds that the effort to isolate Putin has failed and that sanctions haven’t stopped Russia, thanks to its oil and gas exports.