Sweden announced on Friday it had reauthorized exports of war materials to Turkey in an apparently significant concession to Ankara, which is threatening to block the Nordic country’s NATO membership.
Ankara requested the lifting of the restrictions — which were introduced in 2019 following a Turkish offensive in northeastern Syria — after Sweden applied to join NATO in mid-May.
“The government has made the assessment that a Swedish membership in NATO is the best way to protect Sweden’s and the Swedish people’s security,” the Inspectorate of Strategic Products (ISP) said in a statement.
Teh government had already announced in June that Swedish membership of the military alliance could affect policy around military exports.
“Sweden’s application for NATO membership to a large degree strengthens the defence and security policy arguments for approving exports of war materials to other member states, including Turkey,” the authority said.
The ISP said it had approved exports relating to “electronic equipment”, “software” and “technical assistance” to Turkey in the third quarter of 2022.
To date, 28 of the 30 NATO member states have ratified the accession of Sweden and Finland. Only Hungary and Turkey remain. New members to the alliance require unanimous approval.
Turkey’s parliament is due to resume work on Saturday after the summer break. But the country is heading for parliamentary elections in June 2023 and this could make it cautious about voting on membership for the Nordic countries.
As of Friday afternoon, Ankara had not reacted to the Swedish announcement.
“We’ll see what Turkey says,” the director of the Institute for Turkish Studies at Stockholm University told AFP.
“But this is a big change in the Swedish line,” he added.
Stockholm and Helsinki both reversed decades of non-alignment when they applied for NATO membership following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
They had expected the application process to be quick, as they had received assurances they would be welcomed “with open arms”.
But objections from Ankara, which accuses Finland and Sweden of providing a safe haven for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is listed as a “terrorist” group by Turkey and its Western allies, caught them off guard.
At a summit in Madrid at the end of June, Sweden, Finland and Turkey signed a memorandum of understanding on Ankara’s support for membership, enabling NATO to formally invite the countries.
But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan immediately threatened to block the ratifications if Ankara felt its conditions had not been met.
The text signed in June confirmed that Stockholm and Helsinki consider the PKK to be a terrorist organization. The Nordic nations also pledged not to support various groups which Ankara designates as “terrorist”, including the Kurdish armed movement YPG in Syria.
Since mid-April, Turkey has been conducting operations against the PKK and its allies in northern Iraq and is simultaneously threatening to launch a major offensive in northern Syria.
A Swedish delegation is due to visit Turkey on October 5 and 6 for further talks. A meeting of all three parties took place at the end of August in Finland.
One of the more contentious issues for Sweden, which is currently trying to form a new government following parliamentary elections, is the issue of extraditions to Turkey.
Erdogan has said he has received a commitment from Sweden to extradite a group of mainly Kurdish militants or suspected members of the Gulenist movement.
Stockholm and Helsinki have stressed that such decisions are made independently, by the judiciary.
Sweden authorized the first extradition to Turkey since the Madrid agreement in August but that case concerned fraud.
Ann Linde, who is foreign minister of Sweden’s transitional government, said on Tuesday talks with Turkey were “chugging along”.