Putin’s Not the Only Strongman that Was Pulling Strings at NATO Summit

Russian President Vladimir Putin will get most of the spotlight at the coming NATO summit because of his violent invasion of Ukraine, even though he will not be in attendance.

But there is another European leader who will be at the summit in Madrid who should be a major focus of global attention. This leader will put in place a massive roadblock to what some hope will be a historic NATO expansion that could almost double the Western alliance’s border with Russia. 

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, has consistently stalled the NATO plan to fast-track admission of Finland and Sweden. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, these two nations have worked to gain admittance into the alliance. The Turkish president has been angered in the past at Helsinki and Stockholm’s support for Kurdish militants as well as arms embargoes on Ankara. 

Erdogan wrote recently, “Turkey maintains that the admission of Sweden and Finland entails risks for its own security and the organization’s future.”

Some experts believe that Turkey may be willing to make a deal on the expansion plans that require approval from all 30 NATO members. President Joe Biden is hoping to be able to come in at the end of negotiations and become closer to a deal at the gathering in Spain.

Turkish President to Meet With Biden About Deal

Biden spoke with the Turkish leader by phone this week and said that he looks forward to seeing Erdogan at the summit. It has been confirmed by a White House official that the two leaders will meet together privately. There was a previous signal from leaders that indicated Biden would only meet with Turkey’s president if a deal was likely. 

Erdogan has a history of being trouble for NATO. Even though there were objections, Erdogan bought S-400 air systems from Russia. He also helped Iran evade sanctions, and Turkey has been accused of allowing Hamas and ISIS fighters to safely move into their country. Erdogan is up for reelection after being in power for two decades. He has made significant changes to Turkey’s constitution, he has imprisoned many of his critics, and he has clamped down on his nation’s media. 

Soner Cagaptay is an expert on Turkey at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He has noted that Erdogan is good at combining what is good for Turkey with what is good for Erdogan. He also believes that he is going to do something to raise his popularity right before the elections in his nation. 

Those who are in the know believe that Erdogan is going to somehow tie the sale of American F-16 fighter jets to the negotiation with NATO. They believe that it is more important to Biden to expand NATO than the concerns he might have about sending F-16s to Turkey.

If NATO can get Erdogan to sign off on the expansion, it would magnify just how bad Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine has been. One of the reasons that Putin entered the war was to prevent any Eastern European nations from joining NATO.