(CN) — What for long seemed like a dual entry into NATO for Sweden and Finland is now turning into a solo run, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Friday his country is prepared to approve Finland's application.
“Finland will play an active role in NATO. It has been decided that we will start the process of ratifying Finland's NATO application in parliament,” Erdoğan announced at a press conference in Ankara alongside Finnish President Sauli Niinistö.
Turkey’s parliament can vote on Finland’s membership bid as early as next week.
Niinistö is ending a two-day visit to Turkey, during which Finnish spectators expected that Erdoğan would move Finland closer to the military alliance after he indicated willingness to accepting Finland’s NATO bid while still opposing Sweden's.
Turkey's approval of Finland's application has left Sweden by itself after it sought to join the alliance together with its neighbor. On Tuesday, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson admitted that the probability for Finland to join NATO first has increased.
Despite moving forward alone, Finland's president emphasized that Sweden’s NATO bid should not be overlooked.
“Finnish NATO membership is not complete without Sweden's participation,” Niinistö said.
“I would like to see in Vilnius that we will become an alliance of 32 members," he added, referring to an upcoming NATO summit in the Lithuanian capital this summer.
Turkey remains steadfast in its opposition to Swedish NATO membership. Erdoğan is demanding action from the Scandinavian country, which he claims is lenient towards residents with connections to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has been labeled as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.
NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg has said it is not necessary for Finland and Sweden to join simultaneously. What matters is “they are both ratified as full members," he said.
“It is important to get both Finland and Sweden in as soon as possible,” Stoltenberg said on Friday.
Turkey is not the only NATO member taking a halted approach to the two Nordic countries’ applications. Hungary has promised to consent to the bids but has so far delayed parliament voting on ratification multiple times since July last year.
On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that a Hungarian official requested to postpone the decision for another week.
The EU is concerned over corruption and the rule of law in Hungary, including accusations that the government is cracking down on media freedom and LGBTQ rights. Budapest faces the loss of billions in EU funds over the dispute.
“By playing with this postponement of the voting, [Hungary hopes] they can push the Swedes and the Finns to support a potential release of the Hungarian funds in April, or at least make these countries not vocally critical,” Daniel Hegedus, an analyst and fellow for Central Europe at the German Marshall Fund, a think tank that seeks to promote cooperation between North America and the EU, told the AP.
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