When Finland and Sweden made it clear they were thinking about making the historic decision to join NATO, the alliance expected a tough response from Moscow, not from within the organization itself, Reuters reported.
However, at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers with their Finnish and Swedish counterparts on Saturday, marking the biggest shift in European security in decades, Turkey spoiled the mood.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was in crisis mode, a NATO diplomat said, referring to the meeting in Berlin.
A day earlier, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shocked other NATO members by saying he could not support membership for either Finland or Sweden.
Cavusoglu not only set conditions for Turkey to accept membership bids, but also spoke out against his Swedish counterpart, Ann Linde, in what three NATO diplomats said was an "unfortunate" breach of protocol.
“For us it was a historic moment and yet Çavuşoğlu said he was irritated at Linde’s ‘feminist policy’, bringing so much drama,” another NATO diplomat said, describing a very tense atmosphere in the German foreign ministry in Berlin, in which many allies opted for silence to calm the situation.
“We were trying to understand what our Turkish colleague wanted – you know, really wanted,” said the diplomat, who like others spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “It was embarrassing.”
Ankara's main demands are that the Scandinavian countries stop supporting the Kurds on their territory and lift bans on some arms supplies to Turkey.
A Turkish diplomatic source said that Cavusoglu respectfully stated Ankara's position, rejecting that Turkey's position is related to "Sweden's feminist foreign policy."
“Her comments are not helping Sweden’s NATO bid, while the statements coming from Finland are carefully crafted,” the source said. Sweden’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment after business hours.
While Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called Finland and Sweden's entry a serious mistake with far-reaching consequences, President Vladimir Putin said on May 16 that their bids did not pose a direct threat to Russia.
The bad mood at Saturday's meeting was all the more unexpected as NATO diplomats told Reuters in early May that all 30 allies supported Finland and Sweden joining the alliance because of the security benefits it would bring.
NATO allies wanted to secure their accession in record time, but on Monday Erdogan said the Swedish and Finnish delegations should not come to Ankara as planned.
On Wednesday, Erdogan's adviser spoke with colleagues from Sweden, Finland, Germany, the UK and the US. It was noted that progress in NATO membership is possible only if Turkey's expectations come true.
Another source was more optimistic, saying that the conversation with Sweden was positive and opened the door for delegation visits next week. However, Wednesday's calls came after five days of Nordic countries fighting to reach Erdogan's office, the source said.
All this muddies the waters, but does not support the overall plan of accession, he said.
Ankara says the Nordic countries' weapons ban in response to Turkey's 2019 military incursion into northern Syria is inappropriate for would-be security pact members.
Turkish state broadcaster TRT said Sweden and Finland have not approved Turkey's request to repatriate 33 people suspected of links to groups it considers terrorist. The chairman of the Swedish parliament's foreign affairs committee, Kenneth Forslund, said another solution could be found. “For Sweden to start expelling people who are not considered terrorists on the EU terrorist list is totally unthinkable,” he said.
European diplomats say they saw Erdogan's brinkmanship before reaching an agreement. An unpredictable but strategically important NATO ally, Turkey under Erdogan pursues an independent foreign policy but still contributes heavily to NATO missions.
Tensions have marred relations between Washington and Ankara, which appeared to be improving after five years of disagreements over Syria, Turkey's closer ties with Moscow, and the erosion of rights and freedoms in the country.
A source close to the trial said Cavusoglu is publicly taking a hardline stance promoted by Erdogan, but there is a risk that foreign allies will isolate Turkey if he goes too far.
Erdogan faces a tense election by mid-2023, and his attacks on Europe play on domestic nationalist sentiment.
The United States remains confident in the decision. Blinken said at a press conference on Sunday that negotiations over the differences between Turkey, Finland and Sweden are ongoing.
“When it comes to the membership process, I am very confident that we will reach consensus,” he said.