Is Hungary holding up Sweden’s Nato bid in coordination with Turkey?

When Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced last year that he would not approve the membership of Finland and Sweden in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Europe was quick to criticize Ankara.

But one country did not respond: Hungary.

One by one, all other NATO members confirmed the membership of the two Scandinavian countries, except Turkey and Hungary. As soon as Erdogan decided this month to approve Finland’s offer, Hungary followed suit, passing it through parliament even before the Turks did.

This naturally prompted questions. Was there any coordination between Ankara and Budapest on NATO expansion?

One European ambassador told Middle East Eye that some European allies are skeptical of direct cooperation between the two nations. Meanwhile, a Turkish official familiar with the matter said there is nothing official going on.

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“Of course, they have been coming up from time to time and asking about our time frame for the process,” the official told MEE. “There seems to be coordination but in reality there is nothing formal.”

Finland and Sweden broke with decades of military non-alignment and applied to join the US-led defense alliance in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Erdogan’s main objection to this was Sweden’s refusal to extradite dozens of people Ankara suspected of having links to outlawed Kurdish militants and a failed 2016 coup attempt.

Ankara insiders, however, say the real issue was the Finnish military’s informal embargo against Turkey, which was lifted last year.

Helsinki and Stockholm signed a trilateral memorandum with Ankara in June last year in which they promised to reduce the concerns of groups it sees as terrorists based in the two countries.

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It’s no secret that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has a close relationship with Erdogan.

Multiple sources familiar with their personal relationship say they get along well.

They cooperate well together, and there are no bilateral disagreements between the two countries, sources say.

Orban is in frequent contact with Erdogan, especially on the sidelines of the summit of the Organization of Turkish States, of which Hungary is a member due to its Turkish heritage.

“Under the leadership of President Erdogan, great and wonderful developments have taken place in Turkey in the last 10 years,” Orban said earlier this month in Istanbul. “He is the only person who succeeded in negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. We are grateful to President Erdogan.”

One Hungarian official familiar with the NATO MEE negotiations said that Budapest retained the membership of Finland and Sweden because they respect Turkey’s security concerns and believe that NATO members should receive the support they deserve under a military alliance.

“We told everyone that we would not be the last country among the 30 member states to confirm their membership,” said the official. “And we stood by our promise and confirmed Finland’s membership.”

Orban himself said last November that Hungary supports the bids of Finland and Sweden to NATO and that they have not lost “a single moment of membership” because of Budapest.

Orban’s own game

Ongoing tensions between Hungary and Sweden also come into play.

Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said on Thursday that Hungary is holding up Stockholm’s admission to NATO because of past complaints.

Sweden’s representatives have repeatedly wanted to “humiliate Hungary through diplomatic means, using their political influence to harm Hungarian interests,” he said, referring to Stockholm’s criticism of the erosion of the rule of law. under the Orban government for the past 13 years. Orban denies these allegations.

The Turkish official said that they respect Hungary’s solidarity but also suspect that Budapest has its own strategy regarding the expansion of NATO and its own relations within the European Union.

“It is too much to say that Orban is just following Erdogan. He is playing his own game, developing his own art of the market, and hiding behind Turkey,” wrote Petr Tuma, Czech diplomat and visiting member of the Europe Atlantic Center, this week.

The Hungarian official, on the other hand, said that they were still committed to Stockholm’s membership and would confirm their accession when Turkey is also on board.

“We will also continue to strengthen our relationship with Ankara, moving from a strategic partnership to an enhanced partnership,” the official said.

During the official visit of his Hungarian counterpart Katalin Novak, Erdogan on Wednesday thanked Hungary for its help during the February earthquakes that claimed the lives of more than 50,000 people in Turkey and Syria.

Erdogan said Ankara was ready to supply Azerbaijan’s gas to Hungary through the Tanap pipeline and looked forward to participating in another high-level strategic dialogue meeting in Budapest later this year.

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