Why is Turkey finally getting behind Sweden’s NATO bid?

The last Nordic country to join the alliance is still waiting for Turkey and Hungary to clear its path.

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Sweden edged closer toward joining NATO on Tuesday after the Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee greenlit a protocol for the Nordic country’s accession to the military alliance.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan dropped his objection to Sweden’s membership during a NATO summit in July, but it took him several months to send the bill to parliament for ratification and weeks for the parliamentary committee to give its consent.

The long-delayed protocol now needs to be approved by the full general assembly and it remains to be seen how quickly the issue will be taken up by the floor.

Sweden and Finland abandoned their decades-long neutrality and sought membership in NATO amid heightened security concerns following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. 

Finland became NATO’s 31st member earlier this year, after Turkey’s parliament ratified its bid.

Why the delay?

Turkey’s opposition to Swedish membership in NATO stemmed from its belief that the Nordic country has been too soft toward supporters of Kurdish militants and other groups in Sweden that Ankara views as security threats.

These include people associated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK, which has waged a 39-year insurgency in Turkey and people with alleged links to a coup attempt in 2016 against Erdoğan. Others are critics of the Turkish leader. 

Some observers have warned giving in to Ankara’s demands could undermine Sweden’s sovereignty, as well as the rights of those Erdoğan wants extradited to Turkey. 

Turkey, Sweden and Finland reached an agreement last year to tackle Ankara’s security concerns and Stockholm subsequently took steps to tighten its anti-terrorism laws, making support for extremist organisations punishable by up to eight years in prison.

But a series of anti-Turkey and anti-Islam protests in Stockholm, some of which involved the burning of the Quran, angered Erdoğan’s government and the Turkish public.

While the demonstrations were condemned by the Swedish government, Turkey criticised Sweden – which has strict laws protecting free speech – for allowing displays of anti-Muslim sentiment.

What’s changed?

While Sweden strengthened its antiterrorism laws to address Ankara’s security concerns, NATO agreed to establish a special coordinator for counterterrorism and appointed Assistant Secretary-General Tom Goffus to the position.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at the alliance’s summit in July that Sweden had agreed “to support actively the efforts to reinvigorate Turkey’s EU accession process.” 

Stockholm announced it would seek improved customs arrangements and take steps to implement visa-free European travel for Turkish citizens.

Turkey’s EU membership talks came to a standstill in 2018 because of the country’s democratic backsliding and poor record on human rights.

Earlier this month, Erdoğan openly linked Sweden’s NATO membership to Ankara’s efforts to purchase US-made F-16 fighter jets. He also called on Canada and other NATO allies to lift arms embargoes on Turkey.

Some Western states banned arms exports to Turkey in 2019, following its military incursion into northern Syria against Kurdish militias. 

During Tuesday’s debate at the parliamentary committee, opposition legislator Oguz Kaan Salici questioned whether the government had received assurances from the United States concerning the sale of the F-16s.

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US President Joe Biden’s administration backs Turkey’s F-16 request, but many in the US Congress strongly oppose selling arms to Turkey, which wants to buy 40 new F-16 fighter jets and modernisation kits for its existing fleet.

What happens next?

The approval by the parliamentary committee paves the way for Sweden’s accession protocol to be debated and ratified by the general assembly. It would then have to be signed off by Erdoğan to come into effect.

It was not clear when the full assembly would debate the bill.

Erdoğan’s ruling AK party and its allies command a majority in the 600-seat parliament. 

However, the Turkish president has said the decision rests with lawmakers. His ruling party’s nationalist allies remain uneasy with Sweden’s membership and accuse NATO members of indifference toward the PKK threat to Turkey.

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This week, Kurdish militants attempted to infiltrate a Turkish base in northern Iraq, killing 12 soldiers in two days of clashes.

Islamist parties, frustrated by what they perceive to be Western nations’ silence toward Israel’s military actions in Gaza, may vote against the bill.

The Hungarian factor

Hungary, the only other NATO holdout on Sweden, has not announced when the country’s ratification may occur.

Hungary’s governing Fidesz party – led by populist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who is widely considered one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s only allies in the EU – has stalled Sweden’s NATO bid since July 2022, alleging that Swedish politicians have told “blatant lies” about the condition of Hungary’s democracy.

Yet neither Orbán nor his senior officials have indicated what kind of redress they require from Stockholm to allay their reservations over Sweden joining the military alliance.

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Some critics have alleged that Hungary is using its potential veto power over Sweden’s accession as a tool to leverage concessions from the European Union, which has frozen billions in funds to Budapest over concerns over minority rights and the rule of law.

Hungarian officials have said repeatedly that their country will not be the last NATO member to endorse Sweden’s bid. But Ankara’s move toward ratification suggests that the time for further holdups may be running out.

Some opposition politicians in Hungary – who have argued for immediate approval of Sweden’s bid – believe that Orbán’s party is following Ankara’s timetable and will vote to approve once it seems clear that Turkey will imminently do the same.

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Germany gets serious about plans to make military ‘fit for war’

The return of full-scale armed conflict to Europe has Germany dramatically reframing its security policy.

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With Russia and Ukraine still locked in combat after nearly two years and a major Israeli-Palestinian conflict underway, the European Union and NATO are feeling their way into a chaotic new world security order – and Europe’s largest economy is shaking up decades-old ideas on what its military is actually for.

When the Ukrainian war first beckoned, Germany was initially wary of offering Kyiv direct military supplies. But shortly after Russia invaded, Chancellor Olaf Scholz recast Germany’s moral obligations to help resist Russian aggression in dramatic terms.

In his so-called Zeitenzwende or “turning point” address to the Bundestag, he decribed “Putin’s war” in Ukraine as one that risked a return to the dark days of Europe before the 1940s, alluding to Germany’s history as he pressed parliamentarians to support the shipment of weapons and supplies to a non-EU, non-NATO ally.

“Many of us still remember our parents’ or grandparents’ tales of war,” he said. “And for younger people it is almost inconceivable – war in Europe. Many of them are giving voice to their horror…

“The issue at the heart of this is whether power is allowed to prevail over the law. Whether we permit Putin to turn back the clock to the nineteenth century and the age of the great powers. Or whether we have it in us to keep warmongers like Putin in check.

“That requires strength of our own.”

The speech was a major turning point not just in the Ukrainian conflict, but in the German government’s way of discussing military strategy, which given the country’s history until 1945 has long been a difficult subject. Until recent years, contributing to world security via NATO rather than unilaterally increasing German military power has proven sufficient to avoid reopening awkward discussions about what a “strong” Germany might mean for Europe.

Since the Zeitenzwende speech, Germany’s contributions to Ukraine have been at times halting, with complaints from Kyiv and other European partners that Berlin is not moving fast enough to deliver on its promises.

But with the Ukrainians struggling to push Russia back on their crucial southeastern front, Germany is trying to push things further. And Scholz’s defence minister, Boris Pistorius, is  now talking about Germany’s defence posture in terms unlike anything heard since the country was reunified in 1990.

Writing in newspaper Tagesspiel recently, Pistorius called for “fundamental changes” to the German army, the Bundeswehr, which he said needs major structural reform “to be effective and fit for war in the future”.

That phrasing is starkly different from the relatively tentative way German governments have addressed military strength in recent decades – and in his final paragraph, Pistorius wrote in even more strongly unilateral terms that will have made many thinkers and policymakers in Berlin uncomfortable.

“We need a change of mentality not only in the Bundeswehr, but also in politics and society,” he declared. “At stake is the security of our country, and thus the foundation for social coexistence, progress and economic growth. As a state and a society, we need to be able to defend ourselves and be resilient so that we can continue to live in peace, freedom and security in the future.”

Ready to fight

According to German security policy expert Minna Ålander, based at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, Pistorius’s words have been met with a degree of astonishment, as well as pushback from the left of his party, the Social Democrats. Many of his party colleagues share a deep aversion to the normalisation of war, and are alarmed that Pistorius is ready to talk in these terms.

However, she also told Euronews that the structural problems facing the Bundeswehr are simply too serious for the government to avoid given the promises it’s already made.

“There was a sense of waning impetus after the summer, but Germany is under a lot of pressure to deliver on the pledge to send a 4,000-strong brigade to Lithuania, as Pistorius promised,” she said.

“Currently, the Bundeswehr isn’t able to set it up and it’ll likely take some years until the brigade is fully manned and equipped. That is not great for a country the size of Germany.

“It’s become also a question of prestige to an extent. In addition, Germany has made really lofty promises of troop contingents – 30,000 troops, 85 ships and jets – so all of this is a huge challenge considering the condition of the Bundeswehr at the moment.

“Simply throwing money into the Bundeswehr won’t help if the structural issues (especially inefficiency) aren’t addressed.”

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Time to pay

This is, of course, not just about Germany itself.

Looming over the strategy shift is the NATO spending requirement – that is, the obligation on all treaty members to spend at least 2% of their annual GDP on defence. 

Germany has historically not fulfilled this requirement, and Scholz alluded to putting that right in the turning point speech, but it has yet to appear in a long-term budget. Scholz has now reaffirmed this promise, saying Germany will start meeting the target “in the 20s and 30s” – a pledge that might help forestall a major risk to the alliance’s legitimacy.

The shortfall in spending by European NATO members was a fixation for Donald Trump, who as US president frequently complained that Germany specifically was freeloading on American defence spending and even threatened to pull out thousands of troops stationed there. 

“They make a fortune off the troops,” he told Fox News in 2020. “They build cities around our troops. We’ll let ourselves get rich first.”

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With Trump running for another term – and polling well against Joe Biden – former advisers-turned-critics have warned that should he be re-elected, he might well try and make good on his previous threats to pull the US out of NATO altogether.

And were Germany, the alliance’s second-largest economy, still not on track to meet its obligations once Trump was reinaugurated in January 2025, a NATO withdrawal would be easier for him to sell to the increasingly isolationist Republican Party.

The US leaving NATO would send Europe’s security order into disarray at an incredibly dangerous moment. And as Ålander told Euronews, it’s not just the conflict in Ukraine that’s brought the gravity of the situation home.

“I think that the Hamas attack and Gaza war have had an enormous impact on German society and politics. The shift to right-wing rhetoric was instant, especially on migration,” she said. 

“But there’s also a real point to be made that we will probably have to be ready for more conflicts potentially erupting in Europe’s vicinity, as the old security order has unravelled.”

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In fact, this is why Sweden should ultimately join NATO

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

One does not need to be a master strategist to realise that due to the country’s geographic position, Sweden’s accession to NATO would significantly strengthen the alliance in the entire Baltic Sea region, Dr András Rácz writes.

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On 6 October, Euronews published an op-ed by Dr Gladden Pappin, president of the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs, about why Sweden may not join NATO

Some of Dr Pappin’s arguments are indeed worth attention, though certainly not endorsement, while others, unfortunately, require factual corrections.

For one, Russia definitely is a threat.

Dr Pappin, known more as a political philosopher than a security expert, argues that there is not much urgency to get Sweden into the alliance. 

According to him, with its forces bogged down in Ukraine, Russia is not going to launch incursions into NATO territory anytime soon and “claims about Russia’s imperial ambitions seem hardly credible.” 

This assessment is indeed surprising taking into account that Russia’s aggressive war against Ukraine is raging in the direct neighbourhood of Hungary, while also claiming the lives of ethnic Hungarian soldiers in the Ukrainian army.

What makes Dr Pappin’s line particularly noteworthy is that it directly contradicts the newest assessment of NATO. 

According to the final communique of the Vilnius Summit, released on 11 July, “the Russian Federation is the most significant and direct threat to Allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.” 

In other words, while all members of the alliance agreed in Vilnius that Russia is the most important threat NATO needs to face, for some reason Dr Pappin tried to convince his readers about the opposite. 

By doing so, he implicitly contradicted even the Hungarian government, which also approved the Vilnius summit communique.

Sweden would make NATO considerably stronger

Another surprising element of Dr Pappin’s article is that according to him, “Sweden’s military contribution to NATO would be rather slender.” 

However, the opposite is true, even according to Hungarian officials. Only a few days after his opinion article, Hungary’s Chief of General Staff Lieutenant General Gábor Böröndi gave an interview in which he explicitly stated that the Swedish armed forces are suitably ready for NATO accession, adding that that the question of Sweden’s accession is primarily a political matter.

General Böröndi is certainly right. According to The Military Balance 2023, Sweden’s defence budget was slightly above $8 billion (€7.5bn) in 2022, thus nearly 2,5 times bigger than Hungary’s $2,99bn (€2.8bn).

Sweden has a small, but well-trained, very well-equipped armed force configured for territorial defence. Just to give one example: the country’s air force possesses nearly a hundred JAS-39 Gripen fighters. 

Somewhat ironically, the sole jet fighter operated by the Hungarian Air Force happens to be the same Gripen: approximately a dozen of them were leased from Sweden. Budapest is in the process of extending the lease contract that is about the expire in 2026.

A key element of Dr Pappin’s argument for the delayed accession ratification is that there is a deficit of trust in Budapest vis-à-vis Stockholm, meaning that Sweden shall not join until disagreements are resolved. 

However, had there been a real loss of trust, it is highly unlikely that Hungary would strive to maintain its military technological dependence on Sweden by extending the Gripen lease contract.

Putting cold steel aside, one does not need to be a master strategist to realise that due to the country’s geographic position, Sweden’s accession to NATO would significantly strengthen the alliance in the entire Baltic Sea region. 

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Sweden’s membership would decisively help improve the collective defence provided to our Finnish, Polish and Baltic allies on all levels, ranging from strategic planning to military logistics.

Concerted ambiguity in Hungary’s communication

Dr Pappin’s article appears to be part of a wider Hungarian communication manoeuvre aimed at creating ambiguity about Budapest’s position on Sweden’s accession, thus probably buying it time. 

The Hungarian Institute of International Affairs, presided by him, is an integral part of the Hungarian government. The HIIA is directly subordinated to the Office of the Prime Minister, and so is Dr Pappin. 

Generally speaking, no employee of any government would be allowed to publish opinion pieces on the policies of the given government without prior coordination and approval. 

Hence, the article of Dr Pappin is certainly not independent of the official policy of the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

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Interestingly enough, in terms of content, the article appears to contradict the official Hungarian explanations of why Sweden’s accession has not yet been ratified. 

Earlier, the government claimed that it already endorsed and supported Sweden in joining NATO; it is only the parliament that is unwilling to ratify the accession. 

However, this article casts some doubt on the credibility of this argument: had the Hungarian government been really in favour of Stockholm’s accession, no government officials would have published critical articles about Sweden’s readiness.

Contradictions aplenty

The Hungarian parliament, which is officially delaying the ratification of Sweden’s NATO accession, is dominated by the constitutional majority of the ruling coalition led by Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party. 

Their parliamentary supermajority has been serving the government with impeccable obedience since 2010: in the Hungarian parliament, it is fairly normal that core numbers of the budget get modified literally overnight or that the parliament amends the constitution in a few days’ time, without any meaningful debate. 

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This parliament is unlikely to suddenly stand up against the government, particularly in a question of such strategic importance as the expansion of NATO.

Still, on the very same day when Dr Pappin’s article came out, an interview came out with Zsolt Németh, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Hungarian parliament, a veteran Fidesz politician and known foreign policy expert. 

Németh, who is as independent of the government as the rest of his parliamentary fraction, argued that Hungary would certainly support Sweden’s accession and the alliance would be stronger with Stockholm joining. 

In other words, two Hungarian officials voiced their opinions directly contradicting each other and did so exactly at the same time. The interview of General Böröndi may well be part of the same communication effort.

Who profits?

While discussing in detail why Sweden is supposedly not ready for NATO, Dr Pappin elegantly avoids even mentioning a key question: who does the Hungarian policy line actually benefit? 

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Németh was more open in his interview: he admitted that Hungary closely coordinates with Turkey on when the Swedish accession should be ratified.

Turkey is certainly benefiting from the Hungarian policy, as Ankara does not need to be alone in delaying Sweden’s accession. 

Turkey has been conducting a tough, but entirely rational, calculated policy: it has set a number of demands both vis-à-vis Sweden and the US. Once Ankara’s requests can be agreed upon, Turkey is highly likely to approve Sweden’s accession.

Meanwhile, there are simply no demands from the Hungarian side. Unlike Ankara, Budapest is not asking for anything at all from Stockholm, focusing solely on making critical remarks. 

This renders it unclear what Hungary would actually gain from delaying Sweden’s accession. It is at least questionable whether paying lip service to Ankara would be worth the damage inflicted upon the credibility of Budapest as a NATO ally.

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Meanwhile, Russia is applauding the delay

Meanwhile, there is another player that certainly does not mind the delayed Swedish NATO accession: Russia. 

Moscow has long been opposed to any enlargement of NATO. From the Kremlin’s perspective, Sweden’s NATO membership would mean that the Baltic Sea became “Lake NATO”, limiting the power of Russia’s Baltic Fleet, as well as of the other assets deployed to Kaliningrad. 

This forces Moscow to adjust its entire military posture in the Baltic Sea region. This is already happening, as Russia is in the process of recreating the old Leningrad Military District. 

As the process is at least cumbersome, Moscow certainly applauds the extra time granted by the delayed Swedish NATO accession. And from this perspective, Hungary is serving not only Turkish but also Russian interests.

Dr András Rácz is a Senior Fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP).

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At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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We can’t let Russia demoralise Ukraine’s Western backers

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

By stopping an aggressive, revisionist Russia dead in its tracks, the West would achieve continental security, showing the autocracies on the rise that vitality hasn’t been drained from the democratic world, Aleksandar Đokić writes.

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On 3 October, Russian special police arrested and beat up a Russian Orthodox monk, Ilya Sigida, in his temple in the southern Russian town of Slavyansk-on-Kuban in the Krasnodar region. Sigida is not an ordinary monk but also holds the title of aide to the regional archbishop.

However, the Russian state felt confident to assault him because he wrote an article for the site of the bishopric about the way in which Christianity and Christians should view the unpleasant topic of war. The Russian army or its leadership weren’t even mentioned in the piece.

Sigida’s fate is just the latest example of why Russia simply isn’t the traditionalist Mecca it tries to be for the Western alt-right — while at the same time, it’s neither the ideological descendant of the communist superpower, the Soviet Union, with the Kremlin’s actions clearly showing it’s become the polar opposite of its anti-fascist convictions of the past.

Yet, today, the number of those opposing the continued aid to Ukraine keeps growing, especially among the increasingly polarised extremes who see Vladimir Putin as the ultimate truthteller.

In turn, the conviction of the extremes has caused a ripple effect with the more moderate citizens of Europe and the US, and governments throughout the Western world are being made to justify their continued support of Ukraine.

This is why a shift has to be made from a purely emotional narrative at the outset of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 towards more rational geopolitical arguments about why supporting Kyiv actually means ensuring the future of the democratic world as a whole.

‘As long as it takes’ starting to irritate?

After almost 20 months of Russia’s total war against Ukraine, one thing is certain — the conflict is set to march on at least into the next year, with no end in sight. 

While many in the West had high hopes after Ukraine’s swift rout in Kharkiv and less swift, but nonetheless effective, victories in Kherson, the reality of war saw Moscow muster enough manpower not to allow a quick and painless breakthrough of its main defensive lines. 

In political terms, this means that the cost of aiding Ukraine — both in military and economic terms — continues to rise, all amidst a crisis of democracy not seen in the Western world since the 1920s and 1930s. 

The “as long as it takes” catchphrase of US President Joe Biden’s administration is starting to irritate a part of the domestic electorate, a feeling also present throughout Western Europe. 

These voices are not prevalent, but they cannot be ignored, in a way that they present great peril, not only to Ukraine but to the prestige and position of the collective West in an increasingly fractured world.

Support for Ukraine reached maturity

Yet, the unprecedented polarisation of American society, coupled with the end of “Pax Americana” — the period of relative peace in the Western hemisphere that saw the US become the dominant political, economic and cultural power — is something that Ukraine’s leadership and all those that support the struggle of its people for freedom from foreign occupation have to contend with. 

And we are now at the stage where the global movement to help Ukraine reaches its maturity. 

It now goes well beyond posting flags next to personal accounts on various social networks; it is not merely a feel-good cause one can carelessly stand behind, nor is it a social fad. 

Aid to Ukraine is a strategic political, economic, military and societal decision, which will shape the future of the Western world alongside Ukraine itself. 

The Ukrainian cause is just, moral, and essential as a legitimising factor for the Western brand of democracy, along with the European Union and NATO. 

After many blunders and dubious interventions in places like the Middle East, the Western world has a perfect opportunity to demonstrate its own values, resolve and strength.

Placing our bets on David vs Goliath

If the West were to allow Ukraine to be left alone against the much more powerful aggressor, it would most probably receive new chances to support a just cause, only this time it would likely be the Baltic states or Poland. 

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In other words, abandoning Ukraine would be like extending an invitation to a resurgent and revisionist Russia to march on further into Eastern Europe. 

Let us not forget that, for Putin’s regime, the die has been already cast and there is no going back. 

If the Kremlin isn’t stopped in the Ukrainian steppes, it will advance towards central Europe, destroying NATO’s reputation every step of the way. The West is invested in this war — a war it most certainly didn’t desire, but a war that brings advantages as well. 

This is why the favourable rational aspect of the Russo-Ukrainian War should be pushed to the front of the debate in Western polities. 

There has been too much emphasis on morality, tapping into the altruistic motives of societies driven most often by self-interest. 

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This moral narrative, while true, has shaped the war through the eyes of the casual nominally powerless Western observer as a hopeless, albeit valiant, struggle of David vs Goliath. But in the real world, it’s difficult to place your bets on David.

Defending the borders of the democratic world

Since Russia’s war in Ukraine is now also a conflict of strategic importance for the West itself, the main legitimising narrative of supporting Kyiv’s war effort and wrecked economy cannot rely mainly on arguments of morality. 

Putting into play rational geopolitical arguments would actually provide an understandable set of strategic goals which the democratic Western world aims to achieve by aiding Ukraine. 

The main and rationally achievable aim has to be the containment of Russia. Its power projection needs to be clipped, its aggression curtailed in such a manner that it will not be able to convince anyone that it represents anything other than a regional power with delusions of grandeur. 

The whole autocratic world is watching and, while the US has lost the stomach for unwise and audacious foreign military interventions after erring greatly in the Middle Eastern theatre, investing in Ukraine is precisely the initiative needed to help stave off the geopolitical sharks that have sensed the scent of blood in the water.

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Not a single US soldier has died in Ukraine, the cause is perfectly just, one anyone can stand behind without later feeling remorse, and it represents being on the right side of history. 

But it’s more than that: this is a genuine opportunity for both the US and a united Europe to prove that they can defend the borders of their democratic world. 

The Ukrainians are willing to fulfil this role, not because they are bellicose fanatics, but because their own survival and their core cultural and national identity are in grave danger. 

Ukrainians are fighting against getting wiped from the face of the Earth and then being reconstructed in the Kremlin’s own image, piecemeal.

Meanwhile, Ukrainians know what is at stake

This is no one’s proxy war. Instead, it is a case of intersected interests. 

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For Russia, it is a battle to protect the regime in the Kremlin, to prolong its lifespan, and a great revanchist leap which would prove to the West once and for all that Russia is mightier even than the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire put together. 

Amidst that, Putin wants to reign until his natural death and to be viewed as a fearsome emperor. 

For Ukraine, it is a matter of survival — both physical and spiritual. Russia would not only murder and repress Ukrainians, it would reconstruct the historic, cultural, national and even religious identity of the remains of the Ukrainian people. 

Ukrainians don’t need Biden or NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to tell them to fight. They know what is at stake. 

For China, this war is an opportunity to tie a weakened Russia closer to itself to further exploit it. Beijing would also like to see a weakened Russia trapped in this conflict forever since it would drain both the Kremlin’s resources and those of the West. 

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The West has an interest to stop an aggressive, revisionist power in its tracks, crippling it for decades, and putting Russia in such a position that it won’t matter who’s in power. It may become democratic, or it may not, but it won’t pose a danger to its neighbours. 

And by achieving this goal, the West would achieve continental security, showing the autocracies on the rise that vitality hasn’t been drained from the democratic world.

Now is the time to explain this to electorates

It falls to the leading political figures and parties of the Western world to explain to their electorates that investing in Ukraine is synonymous with investing in their own future. 

It doesn’t matter if one is on the side of the progressives or the traditionalists in the great values-based divide of today. Aid to Ukraine works to the general advantage of the West as a whole. 

It would really help the debate if the Western traditionalist electorate was more familiar with the ideological eclecticism of Putin’s Russia, which can propagate Joseph Stalin as well as any tsar, and which isn’t above misusing the Torah, the Bible, or the Quran for the gain of its propaganda. 

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Aleksandar Đokić is a Serbian political scientist and analyst with bylines in Novaya Gazeta. Formerly, he was a lecturer at RUDN University in Moscow.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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This is why Sweden might not join NATO after all

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Joining NATO is not like joining the Schengen Zone — it is a commitment to shed blood for one another in the event of any invasion, Dr Gladden Pappin writes.

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Fifteen months after Sweden was invited to join NATO, its accession to the joint defence alliance is at a clear inflexion point. 

Until this summer, Sweden’s accession looked like a fait accompli, pending what everyone assumed would be an eventual, pro forma approval by Hungary and Turkey. 

But as Ukraine’s defensive efforts have run aground and attention has turned elsewhere even in the most hawkish corners of the Western alliance, the Swedish candidacy is firmly on the rocks.

It is worth asking why. 

‘Rapid shedding of historical neutrality’

In the weeks after the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, fundamental assumptions about the structure of the Western alliance were thrown out the window. 

Age-old policies of neutrality suddenly looked “immoral,” and pressure was duly brought on Sweden and Finland to step away from the sidelines and join NATO. 

During the spring of 2022, Swedes themselves expressed concern at the rapid shedding of their historical neutrality. Yet international frustration is currently directed at Turkey and Hungary for not yet ratifying Sweden’s accession.

Hungary and Turkey aren’t stalling arbitrarily. The core problem with Sweden’s accession is that treating it as an inevitable expansion has undermined trust within the alliance. 

Resolving potential points of dispute prior to expansion is essential for a defensive alliance. 

Unlike a mere security alliance where military norms and methods are harmonised, a mutual defensive alliance demands a far higher level of commitment. 

Joining NATO is not like joining the Schengen Zone; it is a commitment to shed blood for one another in the event of any invasion.

Risks that need to be resolved beforehand

In the days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, NATO’s senior members and international influencers decided to push hard for its expansion — on an expedited basis, sidestepping typical NATO procedures. 

But when diplomats describe Hungary’s hesitations about ratifying Sweden as an “annoying sideshow,” they stir bad blood which does not contribute to the strengthening of a defensive alliance. 

While Hungary and Turkey have agreed to NATO’s expansion at a political and diplomatic level, the decision ultimately rests with the parliaments of both countries.

There are other reasons that Sweden’s accession has stalled, as well. In recent months, Sweden has been undergoing a series of violent public incidents surrounding the burning of the Quran that have angered Turkey and prompted disappointment from the Hungarian foreign ministry as well. 

Just recently, Sweden’s police chief Anders Thornberg noted that the country has experienced an “unprecedented” wave of violence.

NATO’s founding documents imply that internal stability and security, as well as mutual compatibility, are preconditions for accession and that internal strife shouldn’t be imported into NATO. 

According to Article 4, parties to the treaty “will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.” 

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Allowing a new member to join NATO while it undergoes internal turmoil, or is in political tension with an existing member, brings with it obvious risks that should be resolved beforehand.

Engaging in careful diplomatic cultivation

Some level of cultural compatibility is also assumed by accession. Article 2 of the North Atlantic Treaty insists that “the further development of peaceful and friendly international relations” among the parties result from the treaty. Both Hungary and Turkey have complaints on these grounds. 

In April, Sweden joined the European Commission’s case against Hungary at the European Court of Justice — part of the EU-level actions that are holding up billions of euros of funds to which Hungary is otherwise entitled.

As a diplomatic strategy for paving the way to accession, decisions like these are strange, to say the least.

Second, state educational programming in Sweden has characterised Hungary as a backsliding democracy — drawing outrage from Hungarian parliamentarians. 

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While some have sought to pooh-pooh the anti-Hungarian educational material, noting that it was several years old, these issues are precisely the type that should be sorted out prior to accession. 

Instead of engaging in careful diplomatic cultivation of Hungary, Sweden has assumed that Budapest will follow Ankara and hence does not require much direct attention. Such an approach is hardly good preparation for a defensive alliance.

Periodic Quran burnings need to be resolved in satisfactory manner

Similarly, an important part of Turkey’s international image is as a guardian of Islamic culture and civilisation. 

The periodic burnings of the Quran that occur in Sweden are not only offensive to Turkey but also indicate the presence of a difficult internal situation. 

Although Hungary comes from a different cultural background, it enjoys good relations with Turkey and is able to understand the perspective that has caused Ankara to take a cautious approach toward the Swedish accession. 

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Currently, it is an open question whether these matters can be resolved in a manner satisfactory to Turkey as well as to the parliamentary representatives of Hungary’s voters.

From a security standpoint, the urgency of the early days of the war has also faded. With Russia bogged down in Ukraine, it is not going to be launching incursions into NATO territory anytime soon, and claims about Russia’s imperial ambitions seem hardly credible. 

Arguments for NATO’s expansion now have to be made in a more specific and strategic, not broad-brush manner. 

Sweden’s accession is on hold precisely because Turkey and Hungary understand the nature of the alliance and want to proceed only when the diplomatic, strategic and political elements have been fully resolved.

Urgency to join NATO subsided

The larger reason, then, is that Sweden’s accession to NATO no longer looks like an urgent military imperative for key NATO members. 

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Sweden’s military contribution to NATO would be rather slender, and the scenarios for mutual defence are likelier to involve committing American troops to protect Sweden than vice versa. 

Given that cultural differences among NATO members — and within countries — have already been increasing, it is important to ask whether each expansion strengthens overall defensive resilience or stretches mutual goodwill beyond the breaking point, by creating mutual obligations that eventually generate animosity.

In recent days, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has explained that Poland will not be transferring new arms acquisitions to Ukraine. 

Likewise, President Andrzej Duda has warned that Poland will not be pulled down along with Ukraine, as the latter continues to suffer. 

With NATO’s most hawkish members hesitant about their own arms transfers, while the alliance itself remains formally uninvolved, it is natural that overall sentiment toward expansion might also cool or slow.

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NATO membership is a serious committment

Ultimately, it is crucial to understand what the commitment to NATO membership means both for an incoming member and for existing members of NATO. 

Decisions about expanding collective defence obligations can only be made clearly when that is evaluated frankly and democratically by each existing member. 

With the rush of spring 2022 now a fading memory, the opportunity for cooler heads to ask questions has now arisen.

Sweden may yet join NATO, or the difficulties that have arisen may block its path for the foreseeable future. 

Either way, the overall interests of the alliance are served only when each member — including the new one — is fully prepared for the mutual obligations such a step entails.

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Dr Gladden Pappin is President of the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs (HIIA). Since 2021, he has been living in Hungary and has been a senior guest lecturer at Mathias Corvinus Collegium.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Russia woos Haftar, but can the Derna floods give Libyans another chance?

Moscow seized the disaster diplomacy initiative after the deadly Derna floods, with Russian Deputy Defence Minister Yunus-bek Yevkurov arriving in eastern Libya with a promise of aid. Russia is helping Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar while seeking geostrategic payback. But the Derna tragedy has also drawn the US back into Libya, and that could be a game-changer.

On a moonless night shortly after two dams in the port city of Derna collapsed, killing thousands, a hulking Russian Ilyushin IL-76 military cargo aircraft landed at an airport near Benghazi in eastern Libya.

“Russian Defence Ministry sends logistical reinforcements, rescue & search equipment after Storm Daniel,” noted a post by a local Libyan news site days after the landing on X, formerly Twitter.

Accompanying photographs showed teams unloading aid packages from the aircraft while a military truck, draped with the flags of Russia and Libya, waits on the tarmac at Benghazi’s Benina airport.

The messaging was clear and gained momentum over the next few days: the Russian defence ministry was on the ground, providing a rapid response in eastern Libya, a region controlled by strongman Khalifa Haftar, head of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA).

On Sunday, September 17 – a week after “Libya’s 9/11” as the Derna disaster has been dubbed – Russian Deputy Defence Minister Yunus-bek Yevkurov himself was in town, meeting Haftar at the strongman’s Benghazi office.

The Russian defence ministry’s No. 2 is fast becoming Moscow’s “Africa Man”, making several trips to the continent, particularly coup-hit former French colonies such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

Yevkurov was last in Libya when Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin was killed in a plane crash near Moscow on August 23. Over the past few years, Wagner provided indispensable services to Haftar, securing oil wells and deploying fighters during the eastern Libyan strongman’s 2019 assault on the capital, Tripoli, in western Libya. Following the Wagner chief’s demise, Yevkurov is seen as the main organiser of the post-Prigozhin era of Russian relationships with Africa.

Read moreRussian general, master spy duo organise in Africa after Prigozhin’s demise

Just a day after Prigozhin’s death, Haftar showed that he was ahead of the intrigues in Moscow when his Benghazi media office released a photograph of the Russian deputy defence minister gifting the Libyan strongman a pistol during his visit.

Russia’s Deputy Defence Minister Yunus-bek Yevkurov offers Khalifa Haftar a pistol in Benghazi on August 24, 2023. © Khalifa Khaftar media office via AFP

With its 1,700-kilometer Mediterranean coastline across from southern Europe, and its desert land borders providing a gateway to the Sahel and central Africa, Libya is considered vital to Russia’s interests across the two continents. The oil-rich North African nation is divided between the UN-recognised government administering western Libya and Haftar-controlled territory in the east.

Russia has proved to be a new, loyal ally to Haftar. But the septuagenarian Libyan strongman is not known for his geopolitical fidelity. In the course of an intrigue-packed military career, Haftar has switched sides, worked with rival powers, and managed to save his skin while amassing a fortune. The Derna disaster has repositioned him at the centre of a North African “Great Game”, with the victims of the floods in danger of turning into pawns.

Seeking docking rights for Russian warships

Russia’s outreach in eastern Libya predates the Derna disaster and has been largely opaque and shadowy.

Just two days before Yevkurov’s humanitarian trip to Benghazi, the Wall Street Journal published a report warning that Russia was seeking access for its warships in eastern Libya.

“The Russians have requested access to the ports of either Benghazi or Tobruk,” the US daily reported, citing Libyan officials and advisers. Yevkurov’s meeting with Haftar in August focused on discussing “long-term docking rights in areas he controls in the war-torn country’s east,” the newspaper added.

Prigozhin’s death and the Russian defence ministry’s efforts to fold Wagner mercenaries – including around 1,200 fighters still stationed in Haftar’s facilities – into a direct chain of command have increased the geopolitical stakes, according to Emad Baadi, nonresident senior fellow at the Washington DC-based Atlantic Council.

“It’s about securing a warm water port on the Mediterranean, at Europe and NATO’s southern flank, which has been a covert objective of Russia for quite a long time, but on which it hadn’t made inroads, partly because its presence in Libya was never made fully official, let’s say. This is slightly changing now, given the increased high profile, and nature of the visits that we’ve seen with the deputy minister of defence,” said Baadi.

Since NATO intervened in the 2011 uprising to oust Muammar Gaddafi, Russian President Vladimir Putin has consistently criticised the operation and used Libya as an example of the Western military alliance’s failure.

More than a decade later, Putin is determined to turn that failure to Russia’s advantage.

“I think they are in Libya to stay, both for resource extraction and strategic positioning, from where they can basically threaten southern Europe and destabilise the security of southern Europe,” said a Western diplomat who declined to be named. “Putin wants to undermine democracy in Europe and what better way to do that than to use Libya as a launching pad for cynically sending illegal migrants into southern Europe. I think this is a medium-to-long-term strategic plan.”

From Tartus to Tobruk, or Benghazi

Russia’s efforts to lobby Haftar for naval access are aimed at duplicating Moscow’s achievements in Syria following the 2011 uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, according to experts.

Following its 2015 intervention on Assad’s behalf, Russia has substantially increased the use of its naval facility in the Syrian port of Tartus, the only Mediterranean port to which Moscow has access.

With a naval presence in either Benghazi or Tobruk, Russia could significantly increase its reach, by having “surface-to-air missiles deployed, anti-ship cruise missiles, electronic warfare equipment, but more importantly, be able to deploy the Russian Mediterranean fleet to set port,” said Baadi.

“This setup in having both, the eastern flank of Europe [from Tartus] and also the southern flank of Europe [from Libya] presents a strategic advantage, both vis-a-vis Europe and against NATO as well,” he added.

‘Discussing fire safety with an arsonist’

Given the geostrategic stakes, the US is keeping a close eye on Russia’s outreach to Haftar in the wake of the Derna flooding.

Just days after Russian Deputy Defence Minister Yevkurov left Benghazi, the Americans were on the tarmac.

On Thursday, September 21, General Michael Langley, commander of the US Africa Command, and Richard Norland, US special envoy to Libya, arrived in Benghazi in an aircraft bearing humanitarian aid.

After a stop in Tripoli, where they held talks with representatives of the country’s internationally recognised government, the two senior US officials met the strongman of eastern Libya.

“Gen. Langley met with LNA commander Haftar in Benghazi to discuss the importance of forming a democratically elected national government, reunifying the Libyan military, and safeguarding Libyan sovereignty by removing foreign mercenaries,” the US Embassy in Libya said in an X post.


The messaging drew snide quips from Libya analysts monitoring the LNA’s crackdown on journalists and activists following a protest by flood-hit Derna residents outside the city’s landmark Al Sahaba mosque.

“Meeting Haftar to discuss democratic elections is like discussing fire safety with an arsonist. Shut the door on your way out mate,” said Anas El Gomati, director of the Tripoli-based Sadeq Institute, on X.

“I think the West is very naïve about how to engage with Haftar,” said Tarek Megerisi, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “My advice to the US would be to take a very strong line in pushing back against the securitisation of the Derna crisis,” he added, referring to what Amnesty International has called the LNA’s “well-honed machinery of repression to silence criticism, muzzle civil society and evade responsibility”.

‘America’s man’ or ‘Russia’s man’ in Libya?

US policy on Libya over the past few years has been characterised by muddle and absence, according to many analysts.

“Washington is playing catchup on Libya because policy is always overshadowed by other priorities,” said Frederic Wehrey, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Libya surfaces in US consciousness when there are threat concerns: ISIS [the Islamic State group], energy security and Russia’s spoiling influence in Libya.”

Since 2014 – when his military “Operation Dignity” on Benghazi split the country in two – Haftar has positioned himself as an indispensable Libyan player who has at various points engaged with the US, Russia, France, Italy, the EU, Egypt and the UAE, even as he dismays officials in global and regional capitals.

A Gaddafi-era army officer, Haftar began the post-2011 chapter as “America’s man” – the product of a 20-year stay in Virginia after the CIA failed to find another country to house his commando force engaged in covert operations against the longtime Libyan dictator. 

“In the back of Russia’s mind, Haftar is still “America’s man” in Libya, especially after the twenty years that Haftar spent in Virginia,” noted Khalil El Hasse in a Washington Institute briefing.

“On whether Haftar is America’s man or Russia’s man, I think he thrives on being in the grey zone – which is fully, neither. But I do think that the Americans have displayed a naiveite that perhaps the Russians have not because the Russians are as opportunistic, if not more opportunistic, than Haftar himself,” said Baadi.

The US and its European allies have played the opportunistic game with Haftar, but they are falling behind Russia in strategy and the Libyan people have been the biggest losers, according to experts.

“A variety of international powers have crafted their relationship with this personality under the guise of counterterrorism,” said Stephanie Williams, former UN special envoy to Libya and currently a nonresident senior fellow at the Washington DC-based Brookings Institution. “Nations tend to prioritise these kind of discrete files – whether it’s counterterrorism or oil or counter-migration – at the expense of frankly, the kind of institution-building that was needed in the wake of 2011.”

More than a decade after Gaddafi’s ouster, the international roadmap for the North African country is focused on a “Libyan-led” process towards parliamentary and presidential elections.

The process, led by the current UN envoy to Libya, Abdoulaye Bathily, a veteran Senegalese diplomat, has a whiff of dismaying familiarity for most Libyans, who have endured election cancellations, obstructions and irregularities by their political elites.

During the September 10 protests outside the Al Sahaba mosque in Derna, residents vented their rage against Aguila Saleh, the eastern-based parliament speaker and Haftar ally. At 79, Saleh is viewed as a symbol of Libya’s political malaise, unilaterally pushing “legislation” through the chamber that favour his cronies and Haftar allies.

Saleh’s nephew, Abdulmonem al-Ghaithi, was Derna’s appointed mayor when the dam disaster that was “decades in the making” struck. Ghaithi was sacked shortly after the tragedy.

Read moreLibya’s deadly dam collapse was decades in the making

The Derna disaster could provide a tipping point for change, and it’s one that should be seized by countries supporting democracy in Libya before the Russians – under a new “Africa man” – can play spoiler.

“Derna does in fact represent an opportunity for responsible international and regional actors to correct the trajectory of their policy on Libya, to first of all stand with the Libyan people,” said Williams. “There is a moral responsibility now because what happened in Libya is going to happen somewhere else, we’re going have a climate change-driven event that will be compounded by conflict, chaos and misgovernance.”



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brics common currency push & expansion plans: where does india stand?

The story so far: In a bid to deepen ties in Asia and Africa, the heads of the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) are scheduled to meet in Cape Town, South Africa on August 22-24 this year. The bloc, which is seen as a counter to the G7, is also mulling expansion.

The BRICS nations’ foreign ministers met in Cape Town on June 2, 2023, to strengthen the bloc’s influence globally. Expansion was on agenda as ministers from Algeria, Argentina, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Kazakhstan were also present.

In a post-meeting statement, South Africa’s foreign minister Naledi Pandor said that Shanghai-based New Development Bank (NDB) had briefed the BRICS minsters about potentially using alternative currencies to ensure the bloc does not become victim to sanctions which affect countries not involved in the original issue.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar with his counterparts from Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa after a meeting of BRICS Foreign Ministers, in Cape Town, South Africa, Thursday, June 1, 2023.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar with his counterparts from Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa after a meeting of BRICS Foreign Ministers, in Cape Town, South Africa, Thursday, June 1, 2023.
| Photo Credit:
PTI

The bloc also issued a joint statement titled ‘The Cape of Good Hope’, underscoring the use of local currencies in international trade and financial transactions between BRICS and its trade partners. The BRICS represent 41% of the global population, 24% of the world’s GDP, and conducts 16% of the world’s trade.

Origins of BRICS common currency

Last year, soon after invading Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin, proposed the idea of ‘alternative transfer mechanisms’ with BRICS partners and an ‘international reserve currency.’ Addressing the BRICS business forum via video link, on June 22, 2022, Mr. Putin said that Russia was actively redirecting its trade flows and economic contracts to ‘reliable partners’ such as India, China and other BRICS nations to counter crippling sanctions levied by the European Union, the US, UK and other Western powers.

Pushing for independence from the US dollar and Euro, Mr. Putin said that Western sanctions were neglecting basic principles of market economy, free trade and the inviolability of private property as Russia was forced to seek new markets and strengthen ties with nations in Asia and Africa.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a BRICS+ meeting during the BRICS summit via a video link in the Moscow region, Russia June 24, 2022

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a BRICS+ meeting during the BRICS summit via a video link in the Moscow region, Russia June 24, 2022
| Photo Credit:
SPUTNIK

The idea for a common BRICS currency is based on the bloc’s aim to globally realign the geopolitical situation to suit its member nations’ economic, geographic and demographic advantages. The bloc, which was created in 2009, established the multilateral New Development Bank (NDB) in 2015 for mobilising resources for infrastructure and projects in emerging markets and developing countries. Via NDB (previously known as the BRICS Development Bank), BRICS aims to counter the West’s dominance in global financial institutions like the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund.

BRICS expansion & economic influence

Through the years, several nations have expressed interest in joining BRICS to counter Western alliances like G20, NATO, and the European Union. In the recently concluded BRICS Foreign ministers’ meet, over 40 countries expressed interest in joining the bloc. Among those interested are Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Kazakhstan and Algeria.

Prior to joining the bloc, many prospective nations have invested in NDB, the latest being Algeria. Its president Mr. Abdelmadjid Tebboune said his country formally applied to join the NDB with a $1.5 billion contribution. Bangladesh and United Arab Emirates joined the NDB in 2021, while Uruguay’s request was also accepted. In March this year, Egypt became an investor in NDB.

Currently, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, and Zimbabwe are mulling investments in NDB and also seek membership in the bloc. In May, Saudi Arabia expressed interest in investing in the bank as it seeks to diversify its investments in Asia. Aiming to build closer ties with India and China, Saudi Arabia — the world’s largest oil exporter — sees this as an opportunity to expand its market.

BRICS’ expansion has been hit by the sanctions on founding member Russia, which has a 18.98% stake in NDB, due to its invasion of Ukraine. In March 2022, NDB was forced to halt all new transactions in Russia citing “unfolding uncertainties and restrictions.” Several global banks and nations halted Russia’s SWIFT transactions, froze the Russian central bank’s assets and assets of certain Russian individuals.

Shareholders of the New Development Bank

Shareholders of the New Development Bank

BRICS’ expansion is also being stalled by India and Brazil opposing China’s approach towards increasing the bloc’s influence. Brazil fears that the bloc’s expansion will attract countries which view BRICS as an opposing force to the European Union and the United States, while India wants rules to be framed about how nations will be considered for membership over time.

In the recent Cape Town meeting, Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar called the expansion a “work in progress.” He said that it was necessary to view how BRICS engages non-BRICS countries and what would be an appropriate format for the bloc’s possible expansion. Concurring with India, Brazil’s Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira said that BRICS is a brand which has to be taken care of as it represents a lot. In contrast, Chinese Vice Minister Ma Zhaoxu said that its proposed BRICS+ was developing ‘very fast’.

Push for local currency usage

To attract more countries to the bloc, BRICS has pushed for the usage of the member nations’ local currencies for bilateral trade, also reiterating this in the joint statement from the Cape Town meet.

While the statement made no direct reference to the sanctions on Russia, the bloc noted the complications created on the world economy by “unilateral economic coercive measures such as sanctions, boycotts, embargoes and blockades,” calling for a peaceful resolution of the situation in Ukraine via dialogue and diplomacy.

Initially, when Russia was hit with sanctions, India mulled reviving its Rupee-Rouble trade agreement – an alternative payment mechanism to settle dues in rupees instead of dollars or Euros. However, talks were dropped later as traders found the currency conversion expensive and Moscow refused to keep a rupee surplus amounting to $40 billion in its reserves. It used the Chinese Yuan to pay for part of its oil imports from Russia, skirting Western sanctions.

This handout image provided by the UAE Ministry Of Presidential Affairs shows UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan (R) welcoming Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi during an official reception in Abu Dhabi, on July 15, 2023.

This handout image provided by the UAE Ministry Of Presidential Affairs shows UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan (R) welcoming Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi during an official reception in Abu Dhabi, on July 15, 2023.
| Photo Credit:
AFP

Recently, India signed the Rupee-Dirham deal during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Abu Dhabi. While UAE Ambassador to India Abdulnasser Alshaali said that the deal was not a move to de-dollarise the global economy, the agreement aims to interlink the two nations’ payment and messaging systems as well as increase the circulation of the rupee in the Gulf region. As of date, the Reserve Bank of India has allowed banks from 18 countries to trade in rupees— Botswana, Fiji, Germany, Guyana, Israel, Kenya, Malaysia, Mauritius, Myanmar, New Zealand, Oman, Russia, Seychelles, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Uganda and the United Kingdom.

India’s BRICS partner China already trades with over 120 countries using the yuan. The push for local currency deals among the bloc and globally is seen as the bloc’s move to assert its economic potential and get closer to a EU-like common currency.

BRICS Pay and common currency

Facilitating easier transactions between BRICS nations, the bloc launched the BRICS Pay project in 2018 under the BRICS Business Council, enabling digital payments between members without converting to their respective local currencies. The payments mechanism will combine central bank digital currencies (CBDC) and decentralised currencies (i.e. cryptocurrencies). It is still in the discussion stages.

The push for a common EU-like currency has found support from two member nations — Russia and Brazil. While Mr. Putin was the first to propose it, Brazil’s new President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has been a vocal supporter for a common currency as well. He claimed that such a move would help developing countries reduce their dependency on the U.S. dollar.

Logo of proposed BRICS Pay system

Logo of proposed BRICS Pay system

However, NDB’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Leslie Maasdorp ruled out any immediate plans to introduce a BRICS common currency. Despite the bloc’s growing economic clout, Mr. Maasdorp opined that even the Chinese Renminbi was far from achieving the status of a reserve currency. Similarly, South Africa and India have both denied any talks of a BRICS currency. India has asserted that its focus is on strengthening its national currency and promoting its trade with all global powers.

In the upcoming BRICS summit scheduled for August 22-24 this year at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa, the BRICS common currency’s biggest advocate — Mr. Putin — will not be in attendance as he faces an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes in Ukraine. The summit will see both Russia and China push for expansion as India and South Africa remain wary.

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Small nation or not, Iceland wants to help Ukraine defend Europe, too

By David Kirichenko, Freelance journalist, Editor at Euromaidan Press

Although one of Europe’s smallest countries and far from Ukraine, Iceland has made extensive efforts to help in Kyiv’s fight against Russia’s full-scale invasion, David Kirichenko writes.

When Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the Icelandic Parliament on 6 May 2022, only a few months after Russia’s full-scale invasion, he began his speech by greeting them in Icelandic, saying, “Hello, this is Volodymyr from Kyiv.”

Highlighting the ancient ties between Iceland and Ukraine, tracing back to Scandinavian settlers who arrived in Ukraine in the 8th century, he highlighted that “the size of a country is of no importance when fighting for democracy.”

The Ukrainian president’s words were not just empty phrases meant to get another ally on board. 

In fact, they couldn’t be more honest and true: as one of Europe’s smallest countries and most distant from Ukraine, Iceland has made extensive efforts to help in Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s full-scale invasion of the country and to protect Europe. 

Iceland is no stranger to conflict, and Reykjavik is painfully aware of the threat posed to it due to its strategic location and to Nordic countries as global superpowers like Russia gradually start shifting more resources towards the race for control of the Arctic.

Rushing to Ukraine’s aid from the other end of the continent, the island nation of just 350,000 inhabitants has done more than other much larger and more powerful European nations.

And yet, so little remains known about Reykjavik’s commitment. 

Reykjavik opts for sanctions despite significant consequences

Iceland’s steady support for Ukraine against Russian aggression is rooted in a longstanding pledge to uphold democracy and international law. 

That is why, when Russia first invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea in 2014, Iceland did not hesitate to impose economic sanctions on Moscow, despite potential consequences on its economy heavily reliant on fishing. 

This decision, however, came at a cost for Iceland’s fishermen, as Russia retaliated by banning food imports from the island nation.

Even in the face of potential financial consequences, Iceland’s foreign minister at the time, Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, boldly affirmed during his 2014 visit to Kyiv that the country’s support for Ukraine was unwavering. And it has stood the test of time. 

The impact of these sanctions on Iceland has been particularly challenging, as seafood exports constitute a vital component of the national economy, and Russia represents a significant market for these exports. 

Nonetheless, Iceland has remained resolute in its stance.

The only NATO member without an army

Despite its lack of a military force, Iceland places tremendous value on its membership in NATO, recognising the pivotal role it plays in safeguarding shared values and upholding a rule-based international order.

Iceland is also Europe’s least densely populated country, holding the unique distinction of being the sole NATO member without a standing army. 

In fact, it hasn’t had a military ever since it was disbanded in 1869, opting for a small coast guard with four vessels and four aircraft in total. 

Despite its size, Iceland played a monumental strategic role during the Cold War, as it allowed NATO allies to station troops on its island and offered its support to assist the organisation in the past.

Even in the post-Berlin Wall era, Iceland’s role as a guardian of crucial waterways continues to position it as a valuable ally, despite its absence of military forces.

A show of remarkable solidarity, practical and symbolic

Although directly providing weapons to Ukraine is not feasible, Iceland has contributed by aiding allied nations in the transportation of essential equipment to destinations like Poland.

While Iceland has a non-weapon sales policy, it has helped acquire 10 oil transporting trucks for the Ukrainian army. 

The Icelandic government, recognising the paramount importance of oil transportation in bolstering the defence capabilities and manoeuvrability of the Ukrainian military against the backdrop of Russian invasion forces, sanctioned this purchase.

In addition to these vital vehicles, Iceland has extended further support to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, which included the provision of 12,000 pieces of winter clothing. 

The country has also already donated three field hospitals to Ukraine, and an additional three are being requested to help treat injured Ukrainian soldiers and civilians. Each field hospital costs about €7.9 million.

On top of that, Iceland has extended remarkable solidarity to Ukraine by not only offering diplomatic and financial backing but also by taking nearly 3,000 Ukrainian refugees while donating close to €500,000 to support the revitalisation of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.

Beyond their generous financial aid, Reykjavik has taken substantial symbolic measures to show its support for Ukraine’s cause.

Icelandic lawmakers officially acknowledged the Holodomor, commonly referred to as the “death by hunger,” a famine that occurred between 1932 and 1933 as a result of Soviet government policies in Ukraine that saw millions of Ukrainians starving to death.

On the diplomatic front, Iceland has opted to close its embassy in Moscow. Russia’s Foreign Ministry claimed Iceland destroyed bilateral cooperation and stated that any actions taken by Reykjavik that are perceived as anti-Russian in nature will undoubtedly trigger a corresponding reaction.

Safeguarding the continent despite Moscow’s sabre-rattling

In today’s context, a parallel scenario is unfolding amidst the tense Arctic Ocean, evoking memories of the Cold War era. 

As a result, the Kremlin’s aggressive behaviour continues to underscore Iceland’s strong support for Ukraine. 

In 2014, Russia established the “OSK Sever,” a Unified Strategic Command, in a bid to fortify security along its vast Arctic borders and safeguard its interests in the region. 

In recent years, the Russian air force has exhibited heightened activity across northern Europe. The Kremlin’s sabre-rattling is, in fact, growing.

While the trajectory of the Arctic is inclined toward potential conflicts, Iceland is increasingly recognising the importance of safeguarding the European continent from the encroachment of an expansionist Moscow. 

And despite the threats, the island nation continues to truly demonstrate that no country is too small to contribute to the collective European defence in Ukraine.

David Kirichenko is a freelance journalist covering Eastern Europe and an editor at Euromaidan Press.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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How Ukraine lost its battle for a NATO membership commitment

VILNIUS — Ukraine wanted this year’s NATO summit to end with a clear declaration that it will become an alliance member once the war ends, but President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is leaving Lithuania without that ultimate prize.

For weeks, Ukrainian officials pushed their counterparts in the United States and Europe to draft language that offered a timeline and clear path toward membership. The communiqué allies released Tuesday fell short of that, stating instead that “we will be in a position to extend an invitation to Ukraine when allies agree and conditions are met.”

That line proved a deep disappointment for Kyiv, which raged behind the scenes as the U.S. and Germany resisted pressure to offer Ukraine concrete pledges. It was particularly upset at the vague reference to conditions, seeing it as a potential arbitrary roadblock to membership.

Ukraine’s leadership reached out to Washington and Berlin to make its displeasure felt, ending in Zelenskyy firing off an irritated tweet on Tuesday referring to the confidential draft text as “unprecedented and absurd.”

“It seems there is no readiness neither to invite Ukraine to NATO nor to make it a member of the Alliance,” the president fumed to his 7.3 million followers. 

The battle over the communiqué left Kyiv unhappy with the process. 

Ukrainians were “disappointed with how NATO works” and felt there was “no real dialogue” with the alliance on the issue, said a Ukrainian official familiar with the negotiations. 

Ukraine’s backers, to the tune of billions in military and economic assistance, were blindsided by Zelenskyy’s anger. 

Even some of Kyiv’s closest friends within NATO were taken aback, seeing the blunt social media criticism from Ukraine’s president as unhelpful and unwarranted during the sensitive diplomatic negotiations. 

“We take the tweet as an unfortunate expression of frustration,” said a senior diplomat from Northern Europe.

The tweet, coming just as NATO leaders were preparing to meet in Vilnius, added more tension to diplomats’ last-minute efforts to finalize the contentious text, which was ultimately published on Tuesday evening. 

“We saw his tweet same time as everyone else did,” said a senior Biden administration official. “I think everyone understands the pressure he is feeling, and we’re confident that the commitments made at Vilnius will serve the long-term defense needs of Ukraine.”

Backing off

But by Wednesday, everyone was making an effort to tone down emotions. 

Officials highlighted the package NATO leaders agreed for Ukraine, which includes a multiyear program to help forces transition to Western standards and the creation of a new NATO-Ukraine Council, along with a decision to drop the need for a so-called Membership Action Plan (MAP) — a path of reforms ahead of joining.  

And in a gesture intended to underline Western governments’ backing for the Ukrainian cause, G7 leaders issued a declaration on Wednesday afternoon on long-term security commitments for Ukraine. That will see governments making bilateral deals to provide security assistance, training and other support. 

“I believe the package for Ukraine is good and a solid basis for a closer relationship on the path to membership,” said the senior diplomat from Northern Europe. 

An angry Kremlin said of the G7 action: “We believe that it’s a mistake and it can be very dangerous.”

In the end, the specter of Russia’s aggression proved to be a unifying force.

“The tweet did not change anything in that sense,” the senior diplomat said, adding that the G7 declaration was “also positive and many allies already said they will join” and that “the mood today was very warm and friendly.”

French officials, meanwhile, were keen to showcase understanding and empathy for the Ukrainian leader. 

“He’s in his role as head of a state at war and war chief. He’s putting pressure on the allies,” French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu told French TV on Tuesday. 

“You have to put yourself in his shoes, there was a commitment in Bucharest, and we know what happened next,” he added, referring to a NATO summit in 2008 when the military alliance made vague promises Ukraine would eventually become a member. 

For French President Emmanuel Macron, the Vilnius summit was a key moment to show unwavering support for Kyiv — after months of being perceived by Central and Eastern European leaders as being too conciliatory to Moscow. 

“It’s legitimate for the Ukrainian president to be demanding with us,” Macron told reporters on Wednesday. 

Bygones

On the Ukrainian side, there was also an acknowledgment that Wednesday’s talks brightened the mood. 

“The meetings with the NATO leaders were really good,” said the Ukrainian official. The country “got the clear signals that our membership in NATO will not be a bargaining chip in negotiations with Russia … this was the main fear.”

“So, despite the lack of clarity in the text of declaration on Ukraine’s membership path, the meetings showed that there is the commitment to deepen the relations,” the official said. But, they noted: “Of course, it’s not the same as clear fixed commitment in the joint declaration.” 

Zelenskyy himself, who was in Vilnius to attend the first meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council, also took a more positive tone in press appearances, expressing his thanks for the decision to drop the MAP requirement, gratitude for allies and praising the G7 commitments. 

“I haven’t changed my point of view,” he insisted when probed about the difference in tone from the previous day.

“What’s most important is that we have a common understanding on the conditions on when and under which conditions Ukraine would be in NATO — maybe not all the details were communicated, but for me it was very important that it depends on the security.”

And asked about fears in Kyiv that NATO membership could end up as a chip in future negotiations with Russia, he was firm that this would not be acceptable. 

“I’m sure that there won’t be betrayal from [U.S. President Joe] Biden or [German Chancellor Olaf] Scholz,” Zelenskyy said, “but still I need to say that we will never exchange any status for any of our territories — even if it’s only one village with the population of one old man.”

Speaking to a crowd in Vilnius on Wednesday evening, Biden stressed that the West is there for Kyiv. 

“We will not waver. I mean that. Our commitment to Ukraine will not weaken,” Biden said.

And as the summit wrapped up, many officials were quick to try to put the tensions behind them. 

“I consider this episode closed,” said a senior diplomat from Eastern Europe. “It is more important to look forward. We have a process in front of us. Let’s work on it!” 

“It’s all ended well,” quipped a senior NATO official, adding: “that will do for me” 

Laura Kayali and Alex Ward contributed reporting.



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Explained | What made Turkey green-light Sweden joining NATO?

The story so far: A day ahead of a key summit in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) on Monday, July 10, checked off a major task from its agenda for this year. It finally reached a deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to let Sweden into the military alliance. This came after a year of negotiations and global leaders lobbying Mr. Erdogan to drop his veto against Sweden, which he contended was harbouring “terrorist groups.”

Related: Explained | Why is Turkey against Sweden, Finland joining NATO?

What is the procedure to join NATO? 

There are some minimum requirements for a country to be eligible to join NATO, such as upholding democracy, tolerating diversity, respecting the sovereignty of other countries and so on. 

Once a country applies for NATO membership, they are signed on to a Membership Action Plan (MAP), a mechanism used by every new member that joined between 1999 and 2020. Sweden and Finland, the most recent applicants, however, did not use this procedure.

Once a country has met the requirements and expressed its intention to join NATO, it is invited to do so if all member countries agree. This marks the beginning of accession talks, which end with the signing of the Accession Protocol. 

All member countries— 31 at present— have to sign the Protocol and then get it ratified by their national legislatures, subsequently submitting the ratified instrument to the United States government, which is the depositary of the Treaty. 

Since all existing members have to undertake this process, the Turkish President’s disagreement over Sweden has effectively acted as a veto power. 

When did Sweden apply to join NATO?

In May 2022, two Nordic countries, Sweden and Finland, applied to join NATO, the organisation whose initial goal was to block the erstwhile Soviet Union’s expansion in Europe post the Second World War.

These countries have historically had a policy of military ‘non-alignment.’ While the two countries co-operated with NATO as closely as a non-member could, they did not apply for official membership until last year. In the past, they have held joint military drills with NATO, shared intelligence and have supported NATO’s military missions abroad. 

It was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine that largely triggered the countries’ bid to join NATO. The Russian military operation in Ukraine was seen by many as Russia violating the sovereignty of a weaker power in its neighbourhood. It also raised questions as to whether Russia would have started the war if Ukraine had been a NATO member. While Sweden and Finland did not have a border issue with Russia, neither did Ukraine until the Crimean annexation by Moscow in 2014. Sweden and Finland were now worried about a potential future border conflict. The war virtually changed the security dynamic in the region and prompted the two nations to apply for NATO membership, believing that it would act as a deterrent.

However, the membership bids of the countries hit a year-long impasse owing to the objections of one NATO member— Turkey. While Turkey agreed earlier this year to let Finland join the alliance, it held out on Sweden’s bid.

Why was Turkey against Sweden’s NATO membership?

Turkey has argued that Sweden and Finland have ties with “terrorist” groups — a reference to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG). The PKK, which seeks greater autonomy for Turkey’s Kurdish minority, has waged an armed insurgency since the mid-1980s. The YPG is the armed wing of Syrian Kurdistan which controls parts of the Kurdish region in Syria. The PKK is also deemed a terrorist group by the United States and European Union.

Meanwhile, Sweden has criticised Turkey for human rights abuses, especially in Kurdish regions, and questioned its democratic standards— which has not gone down with politicians in Ankara. 

Mr. Erdogan said Sweden, and Finland to a certain extent, maintained close ties with Kurdish militias, particularly the YPG. It also accused the countries of hosting supporters of the Fethullah Gulen movement, a religious sect led by the U.S.-based Gulen accused by Ankara of masterminding the failed 2016 coup against Mr. Erdogan. It also alleged that the two Nordic countries refused to extradite 33 people wanted by Ankara. 

Mr. Erdogan was also upset by an arms shipment embargo imposed by the two countries on Turkey from 2019 after its incursion into Syria against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia. As a concession to get Turkey on board for their NATO bid, Sweden lifted the ban last year.

In June 2022, following negotiations, Turkey agreed to let Finland and Sweden join NATO provided they worked on counter-terrorism measures. In March this year, Turkey said it was satisfied with Finland’s efforts and ratified its Accession Protocol, but said that Sweden had not done enough.

Earlier this year, protests in Stockholm where the Quran was burned also added to Turkey’s disagreement. On a separate occasion, an effigy of Erdogan was hanged upside down, as per a Reuters report.

What softened Turkey’s stance on Sweden?

A look at some simultaneous developments and at the Joint Statement by NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, Mr. Erdogan, and Swedish Prime Ulf Kristersson indicates that the reasons for Turkey’s change in stance are multi-fold. 

“Sweden has amended its constitution, changed its laws, significantly expanded its counter- terrorism cooperation against the PKK, and resumed arms exports to Türkiye, all steps set out in the Trilateral Memorandum agreed in 2022,” the joint release outlines. 

The two countries also agreed to create a new bilateral Security Compact that will meet annually at ministerial level. NATO reiterated that it condemns terrorism and decided to create the post of Special Coordinator for Counter-terrorism for the alliance.

While these are efforts toward Turkey’s original objection about Sweden harbouring “terrorist groups,” Ankara has managed to get a lot more in return for its green light to Sweden’s NATO bid.

Mr. Erdogan this week said he would clear the way for Sweden to join NATO, if Turkey was allowed to join the European Union. Turkey launched its bid to join the EU in 2005, but some of Mr. Erdogan’s internal politics led to an indefinite suspension of talks. In 2016, the European Parliament had voted to suspend talks after noting human rights violations, jailing of dissidents, and deterioration of the rule of law in Turkey, and how the President strengthened his grip on the country’s leadership.

While Mr. Erdogan’s proposal was brushed off by the EU and Washington, Sweden promised that it would support some of Turkey’s bids to join and some of its demands at the EU. These demands include the modernisation of the EU-Turkey Customs Union and visa liberalisation for Turkish citizens.

Analysts also point out another potentially significant development: U.S President Joe Biden announced hours after the NATO deal with Turkey that the White House would move forward with a deal to transfer F-16 fighter jets to Turkey. 

In 2019, Washington had dropped Turkey from a programme to develop and produce F-35 fighter jets after the latter purchased the S-400 defence system from Russia. America has also imposed sanctions on Turkey. Since then, Turkey has demanded that it be allowed to purchase F-16 jets and optimise the ones it already had.

What does Sweden’s membership mean for NATO?

Firstly, this membership aligns with NATO’s expansion plans. Second, it helps consolidate NATO’s security efforts and defence integration in the Nordic, Baltic region, and Arctic regions. All other Nordic countries are already members of the alliance.

It also brings NATO closer to Russia’s borders. Further, Sweden has a sophisticated army and defence technology, which could benefit NATO.

For Sweden, it means securing NATO protections that only formal membership brings. For instance, Article 5 of NATO says that any attack on a NATO member “shall be considered an attack against them all”.

What’s next?

The Turkish President has said he will get Sweden’s Accession Protocol ratified in Turkey’s Grand National Assembly as soon as possible. It is yet to be seen how long his administration will take to introduce the document in the legislature and convince hard line politicians who are against Sweden over the alleged Kurdish ties.

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