Sweden lifts Turkey arms embargo as NATO membership inches closer

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By Euronews  with AP, Reuters
FILE: (L-R) Finland's Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Sweden's Foreign Minister Ann Linde, Brussels, 24 January 2022
FILE: (L-R) Finland's Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Sweden's Foreign Minister Ann Linde, Brussels, 24 January 2022   -   Copyright  AP Photo

Sweden has lifted a ban on exporting military equipment to Turkey, following the Nordic nation's decision to join the NATO military alliance and overcome Turkish objections. 

Sweden's NATO application "greatly strengthens the defence and security policy reasons for granting the export of military equipment to other member states, including Turkey," the country's Inspectorate of Strategic Products (ISP) said on Friday.

Both Sweden and its neighbour Finland sought NATO membership earlier this year following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Both countries face a hurdle in the application process because they need approval from all 30 current NATO members. Turkey raised objections to the applications, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to block their bids.

 Ankara has accused the two countries of supporting the YPG in northern Syria, which Turkey views as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) -- a group also labelled a terror group by the EU and US. 

Turkey’s parliament has yet to ratify Sweden and Finland’s membership in NATO, and Friday's step was widely seen as aimed at securing Ankara’s approval.

A delegation from Sweden is expected in Ankara next week to discuss Turkish requests for the extradition of figures wanted by Turkey.

Sweden and Finland effectively banned arms exports to Turkey in 2019 after its incursion into Syria against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia. The ISP revoked existing permits and has not granted any new ones since then -- although no formal embargo existed.

But the three countries reached a breakthrough deal on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Madrid in June, where Sweden and Finland agreed on a set of steps to address Turkey's concerns about the candidacies.

The ISP confirmed in a statement that it had started granting export licenses to Turkey during July, August and September but it did not reveal which companies or products had been given a green light, citing confidentiality. 

The decision to start exporting military equipment to Turkey will not have been taken alone. The agency has to consult a cross-party group of MPs in the Swedish parliament before it makes major policy moves.