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Russia’s border with NATO is set to expand by more than double as Turkish officials claim it is “highly likely” Finland’s application to join the alliance will be approved before it closes its parliament in mid-April. Vladimir Putin has repeatedly blamed an encroaching NATO for its invasion of Ukraine but the defensive alliance now looks set to extend its shared borders with Russia by 830 miles as a direct consequence of the attack. Finnish President Sauli Niniisto will visit Turkey on March 16 and 17, where his counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he will “fulfil [his] promise” to approve Finland’s accession to NATO.
Two unnamed Turkish officials, who declined to be named as discussions surrounding their approval of Finland to join NATO are not yet public, said that their country is “looking favourably” at the Nordic nation’s accession.
One official said it was “highly likely” that Finland’s membership would be “completed before parliament closes and the election is held” in Turkey.
The Turkish parliament will close in mid-April in time for the elections in mid-May, with Erdogan looking to prolong his premiership, which began in 2014, for another five years.
“Positive messages will be given to Finland’s president during his visit,” a second official said, referring to the visit of Mr Niinisto from Thursday.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, President Erdogan said he would “fulfil his promise” of accepting Finland’s application.
“Mr. President (Niinisto) will come to Turkey on Friday and we will meet,” he said. “After that, we will fulfil our promise.”
Finland and Sweden’s Accession Protocol was signed on July 5 last year, which 28 of the 30 NATO members subsequently ratified. Hungary and Turkey, however, declined to accept the application.
While Hungary has promised to approve the memberships imminently, Turkey has remained hesitant given the alleged presence of persons affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in both Nordic countries, which is a group they view as terrorists responsible for attacks in their country.
Both NATO applicants have expressed a desire to join the alliance together but a senior Turkish official said on Wednesday that it “would not be wrong to say that accession talks will be held at different times than Sweden”. Finland’s bid would be approved independently from that of Sweden, the official added.
Turkey has repeatedly called for Sweden to take additional steps against supporters of Kurdish militants and members of the network Ankara holds responsible for a 2016 coup attempt.
Any attempts to remedy this situation have been further problematised by pro-Kurdish protests within Sweden, during which the Quran was burnt near the Turkish embassy in Stockholm.
After talks between the three sides in Brussels this week, Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson admitted on Tuesday that the likelihood of Finland joining NATO ahead of Sweden had now increased.
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The United States and other NATO countries are hoping that the two Nordic countries become members of the alliance at a NATO summit due to be held on July 11 in Lithuania’s capital Vilnius.
The possibility of Finland’s membership being entirely ratified appears likely given the Turkish comments on Wednesday, but Sweden’s future appears less certain.
Last July, Vladimir Putin issued a warning against both countries in light of their applications to join NATO.
He said that “if military contingents and military infrastructure were deployed there, [Russia] would be obliged to respond symmetrically and raise the same threats for those territories where threats have arisen for us”.
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