Focusing on Russia again, just like in the first Cold War, NATO has returned to its default settings. As of 2021, it has turned toward expanding its sphere of activity to cover the immediate vicinity of the People’s Republic of China. Russia’s war against Ukraine brought new expansion plans for the alliance to the forefront. The NATO membership of Sweden and Finland was brought to the fore at the peak of the conflict during the Russia-Ukraine war, when the possibility of a Russian nuclear attack was on the table.
While the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) did not confirm the possibility of a Russian nuclear attack, the White House insisted that the threat was real. Given the current state of the war, the possibility of Russia launching a nuclear attack is questionable, and it is clear that Russia’s military capability is not sufficient to launch an offensive in the direction of the Scandinavian Peninsula, the Baltic States or Poland, meaning that it cannot pose a threat.
However, the NATO and, in particular, the US, is determined to bring Sweden and Finland into the alliance in the face of a threat that does not appear to be very realistic. This expansion is more likely to be targeted at geopolitical initiatives of the near future rather than the current threat from Russia. A military organisation that could extend its influence over the entire Scandinavian Peninsula would certainly have an easier and more effective control of the Northern Sea trade route, the resources of the Arctic Circle and the Baltic Sea.
From Madrid Summit to today, Sweden beats a dead horse
The 2022 NATO Summit in Madrid initiated the process for the membership of both countries, which was the target of Turkiye’s justified objections. For many years, Finland and Sweden had become a safe haven and a financial source for various terrorist organisations operating against Turkiye. Based on the principle of equal alliance, Turkiye demanded effective steps from Sweden and Finland against Fetullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO) and PKK/PYD/YPG terrorist organisations.
Sweden has dragged its feet in taking tangible steps, despite the change of government in this period. Although the new anti-terrorism law came into force on 1 June, 2023, by 7 July none of the terrorists that Turkiye had requested to be extradited had been handed over and there had been no decisive punitive action against the terrorist organisation’s street activities.
On the contrary, the Swedish government gave the green light to incidents that would provoke Turkiye by allowing the burning of the Muslim holy book, Quran, under the pretext of freedom of expression. This inevitably brings the following question to mind. Perhaps it is not terrorist organisations or Russia, but some elements within the Swedish political and security establishment that do not want Sweden to join NATO. Are these elements, who are likely to be far-right extremists, trying to shift the blame for Sweden’s failure to become a member of NATO on to Ankara by enabling actions to provoke Turkiye?
All quiet on the Swedish front
On 6 July, following the fifth Turkiye-Finland-Sweden Permanent Joint Mechanism Meeting held at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Turkish Foreign Minister, Hakan Fidan, gave an assessment of the problems regarding Sweden under three main points: the fact that Sweden has still not taken any tangible steps in the fight against terrorism; that Sweden, which wants to join NATO, continues to impose a defence industry embargo on a prospective ally and that attacks on religious values are not prevented on the pretext of freedom of expression.
When we take a closer look at the last item, in particular, namely the actions aimed at provoking Muslim countries, especially Turkiye, by burning the Quran, the suspicion that there are groups within the Swedish political and bureaucratic establishment working against their country’s membership of NATO becomes stronger.
The first of these actions was carried out on 21 January, 2023 in front of the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm, by Rasmus Paludan, a highly suspicious person with a highly suspicious past. While Paludan, who spread Islamophobia with his political identity, was even banned from entering Sweden in August 2020, he was unexpectedly granted Swedish citizenship in October of the same year, due to his father’s citizenship. In 2021, Paludan was accused of sexual harassment of minors and, from April 2022 onwards, he took to the limelight with actions that provoked the Islamic community in Sweden. In March 2023, his attempt to enter the UK for the burning of the Quran was prevented.
The second action was carried out in front of the Stockholm Mosque on 28 June, 2023, on the first day of Eid Al-Adha, just days before the NATO Summit. The person who set fire to the Quran was as unusual and suspicious a character as Paludan.
According to a statement he gave to the CNN International television, Salwan Sabah Matti Momika, a 37-year-old man of Iraqi origin, had come to Sweden five years ago and obtained citizenship. He identified himself as an atheist. However, the Arab social media figures who pursued the issue found interesting information about him. Momika was an Iraqi Christian from Mosul and, before coming to Sweden, had been a member of the “Spirit of Jesus Brigades”, a militia linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. It is claimed that Momika, who later approached the PKK terrorist organisation’s affiliates in Sinjar, also joined another militia group, called the Chaldean Eagles, in 2017. Momika’s involvement in volunteer work for an anti-immigrant far-right organisation after his arrival in Sweden raises yet another question about his past.
Suspicions surrounding the assassination of Olof Palme
The roles played by actors such as Paludan and Momika also raise questions regarding the assassination of Swedish Prime Minister, Olof Palme, in 1986. Palme was alleged to have prevented the sale of a Swedish-made missile system requested by Iran and, for this reason, he was allegedly killed by a member of the PKK terrorist organisation following a meeting between the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the PKK in Syria. The Swedish state was unable to solve this murder. The investigation process was even pushed into a dead end with the dismissal of police officials who had been investigating the PKK connection.
One of those who tried to shed light on the assassination of Olof Palme was Stieg Larsson, a leading Swedish investigative journalist and internationally renowned novelist. Larsson, who died in 2004 at the age of 50 due to a heart attack, dealt with the relationship between the far-right elements in Sweden and the state, police, armed forces and intelligence services. His trilogy of novels – “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” – were published posthumously.
The trilogy, in which the connections of the Swedish far-right within the state are exposed, was also brought to the big screen in two different adaptations. If Larsson, who showed that the “Scandinavian Dream” was not as innocent as it seemed from the outside, were alive today, it would be possible to find more revealing information about the figures such as Paludan and Momika who emerged during Sweden’s NATO accession process.
Will Sweden change after joining NATO?
There is reason to believe that the Swedish state, using the controversial issues between the US and Turkiye, is trying to keep itself away from the NATO membership, which it does not want, by provoking Turkiye with a strategy of controlled tension.
It should also be noted that Sweden’s habit of protecting and sponsoring anti-Turkiye terrorist organisations goes back long before FETO, PKK/PYD/YPG terrorist organisations. Retired Ambassador, Mufit Ozdes, in his autobiographical work, “Harici Bir Hariciyecinin Not Defteri” (Notes of a Foreign Ministry Official), provides an example of this, when he served as Charge d’Affaires at the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm in 1979. Ozdes shares in his book the details of how the incident was covered up by both the police and the press after a person was caught financing the ASALA terrorist organisation. At the time of this incident, ASALA and JCAG terrorist groups were carrying out their deadliest attacks against Turkish diplomats and their families in Europe. One thing to remember about Sweden is that it is the source of the baseless allegations against Turkiye regarding the so-called “Assyrian genocide”.
The fact that the US and Germany vouch for a country that has been the flag-bearer of all anti-Turkiye actions and policies in Europe for at least more than 50 years is a topic for another article. It is likely that, even if Turkiye approves Sweden’s NATO membership at the Vilnius Summit, it is unlikely that the far-right elements in this country will stop their provocations against Turkiye or their habit of using terrorist organisations as pawns.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.