BRUSSELS — Europe’s efforts to stand up to Russia and Vladimir V. Putin, its president, are being slowed by two strongman leaders insisting on prioritizing their national interests and performing in front of a domestic audience.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday blocked a procedural vote on the rapid advancement of membership applications from Sweden and Finland, submitted with much publicity on Wednesday morning, a senior European diplomat said.
And Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban continues to block even a watered-down effort by the European Union to impose an embargo on Russian oil, part of a sixth sanctions package targeting Moscow for its war on Ukraine.
While NATO and the European Union have shown remarkable unity in their response to Mr. Putin’s war, the actions of the two authoritarian leaders show the tensions that build as the war drags on, peace talks seem to be coming to nothing and Western sanctions are contributing to economic pain and high inflation at home, as well as in Russia.
Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Orban may be outliers in their organizations, but they are able to use the consensus requirement in both NATO and the European Union to get their concerns answered. policies by blocking the action of all others, even temporarily.
A meeting of NATO ambassadors on Wednesday could not reach consensus on a first vote to proceed with membership applications as Turkey said it first wanted NATO to address its concerns in matters of security. In particular, Ankara wants Finland and especially Sweden to end what Mr. Erdogan called support for “terrorist organizations” in their countries, mainly the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, as well as the lifting of export bans on certain arms sales to Turkey. .
Turkey’s decision to block the consensus came hours before Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was due to meet Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken in New York; Turkey wants its security concerns addressed before the annual NATO summit in late June.
In an address to his lawmakers in parliament on Wednesday, Erdogan was at length critical of Western support for Kurdish groups that Ankara sees as a terrorist threat.
“It wouldn’t be wrong to say that we are bittersweet looking at the solidarity and cooperation in the region, the sources used, the weapons opened, the tolerance displayed,” he said. “Because we, as a NATO ally who has fought against terrorism for years, whose borders have been harassed, great conflicts have occurred next door, have never seen such a picture. “
Turkey “has asked for 30 terrorists”, he said. “They said, ‘We don’t give it to them,'” Erdogan told parliament. “You won’t deliver the terrorists, but you want to join NATO. We cannot say yes to a security organization without security.
The PKK is a Kurdish guerrilla group that fought a decades-long separatist insurgency in parts of Turkey. It was designated by the United States as a terrorist organization in 1997.
Mr Erdogan remains angry at Washington and Stockholm’s support for a PKK-affiliated militia in Syria, where the group was fighting Islamic State. Last year his government reprimanded the United States and Sweden over it. And Turkey has requested the extradition of six alleged PKK members from Finland and 11 alleged PKK members from Sweden.
Mr Erdogan said these problems prevented him from having “favorable thoughts” about the Nordic countries joining. But he did not say he would veto their candidacies.
On Saturday, Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman and foreign policy adviser to Mr. Erdogan, said: “We are not closing the door. But we are essentially raising this issue as a national security issue for Turkey. »
National security is also Mr. Orban’s argument. Hungary depends on Russia for its energy, getting 85% of its natural gas and 65% of its oil supply from Russia, as well as using Russian technology for its nuclear power plants.
While Hungary has endorsed all previous sanctions packages, including a Russian coal embargo, Mr Orban has proclaimed an oil embargo would be the equivalent of an ‘atomic bomb’ for Hungary’s economy .
But like Mr. Erdogan at NATO, Mr. Orban is this time the only recalcitrant, in his case, in the EU’s weeks-long effort to finalize a gradual embargo on Russian oil, the flagship measure of a sixth sanctions package since the invasion of Ukraine. .
The talks began in mid-April. After extensive consultation between EU officials and diplomats from the bloc’s 27 member states, a proposal was put on the table in early May, incorporating different positions.
But Hungary seemed to move the goal posts. The first proposal granted extensions to Hungary and Slovakia so that they could find alternative suppliers. While the other 25 EU members would have until the end of the year, Hungary and Slovakia would have until the end of 2023.
Understanding Turkey’s Economic Crisis
How did the Turkish economy go so wrong? Before the pandemic, Turkey was trying to stave off a recession caused by mountainous debt, steep losses in the value of the lira and rising inflation. But the crisis has accelerated in recent months, mainly because of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s policies.
Then Hungary asked for and got even more time. The latest version of the package would give it until the end of 2024, but Mr Orban insisted Hungary would need billions of dollars from the bloc to protect his country’s economy. Its foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, said using a different oil and modernizing Hungary’s energy system would cost between 15 and 18 billion euros and take five years.
Hungary’s blocking of an EU oil embargo, breaking an unprecedented unity to punish Russia, was welcomed in Moscow. Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president who is currently deputy chairman of the country’s National Security Council, said Mr Orban’s opposition to the oil embargo was “a brave step for a voiceless Europe”. .
In a message on his Telegram channel on May 6, Mr Medvedev wrote: “Apparently the most sensible leaders of EU countries are tired of heading quietly to the precipice with the whole sterilized European herd led to the slaughterhouse by an American. shepherd.”
Diplomats said they expected Mr Orban to eventually agree to an oil embargo, having secured both a long extension and additional funding for Hungary, but that he could extend the talks even further a long time, perhaps until the end of the month, when the leaders are expected. meet in person in Brussels to talk about Ukraine.
NATO officials have expressed the same confidence in Mr Erdogan – that he will eventually agree to support Sweden and Finland joining NATO in return for a few concessions that will help him politically at home, with its economy in crisis and new elections just a year away.
Alexander Stubb, Finland’s former prime minister and foreign minister, said “Finns are cool and laid back, just like Swedes – that’ll be fine”.
Ultimately, he said, “it’s about security in Europe and strengthening the alliance, and Finland and Sweden are strong supporters of Turkey’s EU membership. European”.
In 1999, he says, it was Finland’s presidency of the European Union that opened the door to Turkey’s membership, “and our friends in Ankara will remember that”.
Sauli Niinisto, Finland’s president, said in Stockholm that the Turks “have let us know from many sources that Turkey will not block membership.” A quick process is still possible, he said.
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, said on Sunday: “Turkey has been clear: its intention is not to block membership. Therefore, I am confident that we will be able to address the concerns expressed by Turkey without delaying the accession process.”
At least not too much.
Reporting was provided by Carlotta Gall in Kharkiv, Ukraine; Benjamin Novak in Budapest; and Johanna Lemola in Helsinki.