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Finland asked to join Western defence alliance in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Turkey was last holdout.
Turkey’s parliament has approved a bill to allow Finland to join NATO, clearing the last major hurdle for Helsinki to join the Western defence alliance as war rages in Ukraine.
All 276 lawmakers present on Thursday voted in favour of Finland’s bid, days after Hungary’s parliament also endorsed Helsinki’s accession.
The Turkish parliament was the last among the 30 members of the alliance to ratify Finland’s membership.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier this month that Finland had secured his country’s blessing after taking concrete steps to keep promises to crack down on groups seen by Ankara as “terrorists”, and to free up defence exports.
After the vote, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto thanked NATO’s 30 member states for supporting his country’s bid to join the alliance.
“I want to thank every one of them for their trust and support. Finland will be a strong and capable ally, committed to the security of the alliance,” he said in a statement released on Twitter.
— Sauli Niinistö (@niinisto) March 30, 2023
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg also welcomed the move.
“I welcome the vote… to complete the ratification of Finland’s accession. This will make the whole NATO family stronger & safer,” Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter.
Finland and Sweden had asked to join the trans-Atlantic military alliance last year in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which began on February 24, 2022, ending decades of military non-alliance.
Finland shares a 1,300-kilometre (800-mile) border with Russia.
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.
— Jens Stoltenberg (@jensstoltenberg) March 30, 2023
Sweden’s bid to join the alliance, meanwhile, has been left in limbo, with both Turkey and Hungary holding out on approval despite expressing support for NATO’s expansion.
Turkey’s government has accused Sweden of being too lenient toward Kurdish groups it considers “terrorists” and people associated with a 2016 coup attempt.
Ankara has voiced anger over a series of demonstrations in Sweden, including a protest by activists who burned the Quran outside the Turkish Embassy.
Meanwhile,Hungary’s government has contended that some Swedish politicians have made derisive statements about the condition of Hungary’s democracy and played an active role in ensuring that billions in European Union funds were frozen over alleged rule-of-law and democracy violations.
On Thursday, Turkish officials have said that unlike Sweden, Finland fulfilled its obligations under a memorandum signed last year under which the two countries pledged to address Turkey’s security concerns.
“As a NATO member, we naturally had some expectations and requests regarding the security concerns of our country,” Akif Cagatay Kilic, a legislator from Erdogan’s governing party, told parliament before the vote. “I would like to underline the concrete steps and their implementation by Finland, which supported and shaped the decision we are taking here.”
Kilic added: “I’m aware that there is a large number of people watching us from Finland. … We can say to them: ‘Welcome to NATO.’”
Some opposition parties were critical of the Turkish government’s position toward the two Nordic countries.
“Unfortunately, (Erdogan’s ruling party) turned the right to veto Finland and Sweden’s membership bids into a tool for blackmail and threat. We do not approve of it,” said Hisyar Ozsoy, a legislator from the pro-Kurdish party.
“We find the bargaining process (to press for) the extradition of Kurdish dissident writers, politicians and journalists … to be ugly, wrong and unlawful.”
This is a developing story. More updates to follow.