Finland’s Foreign Minister, Pekka Haavisto, recently hinted at the possibility of Russian involvement in the Quran-burning protest that took place in Sweden last week. The incident, which was orchestrated by far-right activist Rasmus Paludan, has threatened to derail Sweden’s accession to NATO.
During an interview with YLE TV1, Haavisto stated that the connections between Paludan and Russia have been investigated and certain links have been found in the activist’s vicinity. However, he stopped short of confirming Russian involvement in the incident. The Foreign Minister went on to say that the Quran-burning episode raises the question of whether a third party, such as Russia, is seeking to stir the pot and create chaos by opposing NATO membership and looking to provoke the situation. Haavisto referred to such actions as “unforgivable.”
The Swedish government has not commented publicly on any link between Paludan and Russia. However, Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson noted the presence of “forces that may want to keep the nation out of the military alliance.” Kristersson went on to say that there are forces both within Sweden and outside the country who wish to hinder Sweden’s membership in NATO and that it’s against this background that the provocateurs who seek to worsen Sweden’s relations with other countries should be seen.
Turkey and Hungary are the only two of NATO’s 30 members who have yet to ratify the applications of Finland and Sweden. Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, cast doubt on Sweden’s prospects of joining the alliance after the Quran-burning incident. With an election expected to be held in mid-May, Erdogan is aiming to bolster his support among Turkey’s religious conservatives.
Haavisto stated that the general view is that Turkey is taking a break on Sweden’s accession into NATO and that it’s possible to return to the topic after the May elections. He added that neither Nordic country’s entry has been permanently blocked. Haavisto also noted that it’s unlikely that Finland would join the defense alliance before Sweden, although formal talks between the three countries have been halted.
Despite this, Haavisto stated that Finland remains in touch with Turkey and that he speaks with his counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, “every time something happens on the international stage.” The Foreign Minister’s remarks regarding the Quran-burning incident in Sweden and the possible involvement of a third party, such as Russia, highlight the delicate political landscape surrounding NATO membership and the impact such incidents can have on the alliance’s future.