Turkey is back in from the cold with NATO and F-16 moves

President of Turkey Recep Erdogan addresses journalists during the final national press conference during the high level NATO summit in Litexpo Conference Centre in Vilnius, Lithuania on July 12, 2023.

Dominika Zarzycka | Nurphoto | Getty Images

Turkey spent nearly two years — along with Hungary — holding up Sweden’s accession to NATO.

It’s bought powerful Russian weapons systems and its outspoken President Recep Tayyip Erdogan openly lambastes leaders of allied Western countries. Relations between Turkey and the West have been strained, to say the least.

But with the decision to allow Sweden into NATO in late January — a move that required unanimous approval by all 31 members of the alliance — it’s as if a switch has been flipped. 

Within hours of Ankara’s decision, the U.S. approved a $23 billion sale for F-16 fighter jets to Turkey that had been delayed since 2021. The State Department’s Victoria Nuland said that Turkey would immediately begin receiving modernization kits for their F-16s, and that Washington would be “delighted” to welcome Turkey back into the F-35 program for NATO’s most advanced fighter jet, as soon as the allies resolved the issue of Turkey’s Russian weapons system purchases. 

It’s worth noting that Hungary has yet to approve Sweden’s NATO bid, and remains the only member of the alliance standing in the way of the Nordic country’s accession. 

“No country within the western orbit has taken so many problematic steps only to be welcomed back with open arms,” David Lepeska, a Turkish and Eastern Mediterranean affairs columnist wrote for UAE outlet The National.

Turkey seemingly has a unique position that allows it to push the envelope and cross lines with its NATO allies. And it’s also welcomed back with open arms after a single change in position, despite calls for stricter accountability by some U.S. lawmakers. 

“My approval of Turkey’s request to purchase F-16 aircraft has been contingent on Turkish approval of Sweden’s NATO membership. But make no mistake: This was not a decision I came to lightly,” Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.

A general view of the General Assembly of the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) during the debate on the Bill on the Approval of the Ratification of the Protocol on Sweden’s Accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Ankara, Turkiye on January 23, 2024. (Photo by Metin Aktas /Anadolu via Getty Images)

Metin Aktas | Anadolu | Getty Images

Sen. Chris Van Hollen said he welcomed Turkey’s ratification, but added: “I continue to have serious concerns about President Erdogan’s ongoing attacks against our Syrian Kurdish allies, his aggressive actions in the Eastern Mediterranean, and the role he played in supporting Azerbaijan’s military assaults against Nagorno-Karabakh … It is clear that we must keep a close watch on Turkey in the weeks and months ahead – actions speak louder than words.” 


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Turkey is back in from the cold with NATO and F-16 moves

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