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Biden has just returned from a successful journey to Europe.

In addition to the negative effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, President Joe Biden’s journey to Europe has already yielded a significant deliverable.

On the eve of the NATO meeting in Lithuania, Turkey surprised everyone by removing its blockage on Sweden’s admission into NATO. Hours after warning Sweden it would be on its own until Turkey gained membership in the European Union, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reversed course.

Biden’s legacy as a US leader who revitalised and extended NATO will be bolstered once Sweden joins the alliance. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Finland opted to join NATO as well, expanding the alliance’s territory by hundreds of kilometres along Russia’s border. Since the end of the Cold War and the reunification of Germany fell under President Biden’s watch, he has been the most influential president in transatlantic affairs at least since George H.W. Bush. However, the result of the war in Ukraine and his ability to avoid a direct clash with Russia will determine his legacy.

The alliance’s most cohesive moment in years, the NATO summit, was in risk of being slightly marred by divisions over Ukraine’s requests to secure a timetable for membership, but Turkey’s about-face will lighten the mood. Before departing the United States, Biden had said that Ukraine was not prepared to join. If a country wants to join NATO and take advantage of its collective security guarantee, it must first receive the unanimous consent of all existing members.

Putin, the president of Russia, was dealt a serious blow by Erdogan’s action as well. First, it will lead to the expansion of NATO territory and the strengthening of the alliance in the wake of an unjustified invasion of Ukraine, which Putin had maintained was partially meant to weaken the West and to counter what he alleges is its drive to neuter Russia’s might in its own backyard. Second, Russia’s attempts to sow discord among NATO members in order to weaken the alliance will be thwarted by Erdogan’s decision. Erdogan is an increasingly dictatorial leader who has had mainly warm ties with the Kremlin strongman.

An unpredictable leader who has used Turkey’s position at the crossroads of Europe and Asia to try to remake his country into a regional superpower has taken yet another intriguing turn on Monday. Erdogan’s quick about-face raises questions about whether he had talked himself into a position with Sweden, NATO’s European countries, and the United States, but it is now unclear whether he achieved anything more than cosmetic concessions. He had previously abandoned his opposition to Finland’s membership in the alliance.

Erdogan’s harsh control, which Washington is concerned would weaken Turkey’s secular constitution and democracy, has worried successive US presidents for years. U.S. officials have grown increasingly dissatisfied with his close relationship with Vladimir Putin and his unfulfilled promises of peace talks with Syria in recent years.

Behind-the-scenes negotiations after US pressure

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who is close to President Joe Biden and was recently convinced to extend his tenure until October 2024, stated that diplomacy had been at work for months to bring about Turkey’s change of heart. “This is not new negotiation, but rather the implementation and assurance of the implementation of the various things we agreed upon a year ago in Madrid,” Stoltenberg explained.

The American president appears to have made his position clearly plain in a phone chat between President Joe Biden and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday, which may have contributed to Turkey’s about-face. As for the call’s tenor, the White House stated Biden wanted Sweden to join NATO “as soon as possible.”

According to US national security adviser Jake Sullivan, the agreement was reached following discussions between NATO, Turkey, and Sweden. He also noted recent US engagement, such as President Trump’s meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson in Washington last week.

Following the agreement reached in Sweden, Sullivan told reporters in Vilnius that “we’re coming into this consequential summit with a full head of steam,” emphasising a sense of togetherness that would disappoint Putin. Can the West remain united? is a question asked every few months. “Can NATO stay together?” he further probed. When allies get together, that topic always comes back again, and every time, they answer it with the same conviction and conviction: Yes we can.

New York Democrat and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer praised Biden as a foreign policy expert and tried to claim political credit for breaking the impasse. He understands it thoroughly, has a firm grip on it, and is highly efficient. And this is a win for President Biden, the West, freedom, and America.

It may take a few days for it to become clear whether Turkey achieved any political victories. A senior source was quoted by the official media in Ankara as claiming that Erdogan had successfully won Sweden’s full support for Turkey’s long-delayed admission process into the EU. Biden stated in a statement that he was looking forward to improving security in Eurasia with the Turkish leader, and Stoltenberg echoed this sentiment by strongly supporting Turkey’s bid for EU membership.

Even if these measures may provide Erdogan with political support at home for his attitude shift, they hardly appear like major successes for Turkey. For example, Stoltenberg cannot sway the country’s application to join the European Union. The EU already had doubts about Turkey’s ability to meet admission requirements because of the country’s human rights record and Erdogan’s crackdowns on the media. The leaders of Sweden and Turkey did reach an agreement to cooperate in the fight against terrorism, and NATO did agree to designate a new counter-terrorism coordinator as part of the arrangement. Ankara’s demands that Sweden crack down on the extremist Kurdistan Workers’ Party have been met with these measures. Turkey accuses the Stockholm administration of enabling far-right anti-Islam riots by allowing members of the organisation to operate on Swedish soil.

The fact that a number of senators from both parties had asked Biden to put off the sale of F-16 fighter fighters to Turkey, one of the biggest military purchases in years, until Turkey abandoned its objections to Sweden’s NATO membership, may also have impacted on Erdogan’s mind. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez said on Monday that he had not determined whether or not to reverse his long-held opposition to the F-16s agreement, in part due to concerns that Turkey might use the planes to threaten sister NATO member Greece. The New Jersey Democrat indicated that he would make a decision “in the next week.” Sullivan claimed that Biden had put no conditions on the sale of the jets to the Turks in recent weeks of negotiations. He added that Menendez had been contacted by the administration about the matter.

A startling turn of events

Considering his stance leading up to the NATO meeting, Erdogan appears to have failed miserably. On Monday morning he issued a fresh warning that EU membership ambitions for Sweden should be tied to those of Turkey. “Turkey has waited at the door of the European Union for more than 50 years,” he warned, adding that “virtually all NATO members are European members.”

Host and former Deputy Director of National Intelligence Beth Sanner referred to Erdogan’s about-face as “fascinating” on Monday, noting that the Turkish leader has been trying to negotiate concessions from the United States for months. She told Jake Tapper that “this really isn’t about Sweden,” instead focusing on the United States and Turkey and Turkey’s role. “By putting EU membership on the table, he overplayed his hand, and I believe he wants NATO to view him as the hero who saves the day, not as the spoiler.” She continued, “He began to resemble a detractor, and I believe he was forced to retreat.”

Erdogan’s turnaround could have serious repercussions, including a deterioration of his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin just days after he asked Putin to visit Turkey in August. Erdogan hopes to use Turkey’s influence to negotiate a renewal of an agreement that permits Ukraine to ship grain out of Black Sea ports.

A group of Ukrainian officers seized by Russia last year after directing the defence of Mariupol from the Azovstal steel factory were released by Turkey over the weekend. Despite an agreement with Russia that they would not be handed over to Ukraine until the end of the war, they returned home to a heroes’ welcome with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

It appears that Erdogan has broken seriously with Putin. However, he is unlikely to stop playing both sides of the grand geopolitical game, disappointing many who hope he will. Erdogan has always been concerned with gaining as much authority as possible for himself and Turkey.

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