Türkiye Becomes Last NATO Nation to Ratify Finland Membership

Türkiye's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at a news conference during a NATO summit in Madrid, Spain June 30, 2022. (Reuters)
Türkiye's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at a news conference during a NATO summit in Madrid, Spain June 30, 2022. (Reuters)
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Türkiye Becomes Last NATO Nation to Ratify Finland Membership

Türkiye's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at a news conference during a NATO summit in Madrid, Spain June 30, 2022. (Reuters)
Türkiye's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at a news conference during a NATO summit in Madrid, Spain June 30, 2022. (Reuters)

Türkiye on Thursday became the final NATO nation to ratify Finland's membership of the US-led defense alliance in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Lawmakers unanimously backed the Nordic country's accession two weeks after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly blessed the bid.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the ratification, saying on Twitter it would "make the whole NATO family stronger and safer", said AFP.

Türkiye's approval leaves Finland -- which has a 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) border with Russia -- with only a few technical steps before it becomes the 31st member of the world's most powerful military bloc.

Officials expect the process to be completed as early as next week.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto thanked NATO's member states for "their trust and support."

"Finland will be a strong and capable ally, committed to the security of the alliance," he said in a statement released on Twitter.

Finland and its neighbor Sweden ended decades of military nonalignment and decided to join NATO last May.

Their applications were accepted at a June alliance summit that was designed to show the Western world's desire to stand up to Russia in the face of Europe's most grave conflict since World War II.

But the bids still needed to be ratified by all the members' parliaments -- a process that stalled with Türkiye and Hungary.

'Ample grievances'
Erdogan put up stiff resistance to Sweden's candidacy because of a series of long-standing disputes.

He first signaled his more supportive stance on Finland's membership in January -- a position that forced the Nordic neighbors to bow to the diplomatic pressure and break up their bids so that both applications were not delayed.

The Hungarian parliament ratified Finland's NATO membership on Monday. It was expected to approve Sweden's accession during the current session ending June 15.

But a spokesman for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Wednesday called on Sweden to "clear the air" and address "an ample amount of grievances" for the vote to go ahead.

Sweden has upset Orban -- one of Europe's closest allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin -- by expressing alarm over the rule of law in Hungary.

It has also angered Türkiye by refusing to extradite dozens of suspects that Erdogan links to a failed 2016 coup attempt and a decades-long Kurdish fight for an independent state.

Stockholm still hopes to join the alliance in time for a July summit in Vilnius.

Most analysts believe that Türkiye will only vote on Sweden's candidacy after the country's May general election.

'Legitimate target'
NATO was created as a counterweight to the Soviet Union at the onset of the Cold War era that began immediately after the Allies defeated Nazi Germany.

The bloc has gone through waves of expansion that brought it ever closer to Russia's borders.

NATO's reach into east and south European countries that were once under Moscow's effective control infuriated the Kremlin and created growing strains in its relations with Washington.

Putin cited the threat of NATO expanding into Ukraine as one of his main reasons for launching the war 13 months ago.

But the conflict has had the opposite geopolitical effect from the one envisioned by Putin.

Ukraine is now receiving tanks and other heavy weapons from NATO members that it hopes to use in a new counteroffensive planned for the coming weeks or months.

Finland never seriously discussed NATO membership until Putin went to war.

The Kremlin at first appeared to play down the significance of the bloc reaching a new stretch of Russia's northwestern frontier.

But Russia has stepped up its diplomatic rhetoric in recent weeks.

Stockholm this week summoned the Russian ambassador after he said Sweden and Finland would become a "legitimate target" of "retaliatory measures" -- including military ones -- if they join NATO.

Putin last weekend also announced plans to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus.



Biden Abruptly Changed His Mind about 2024 Race over Weekend, Sources Say

US President Joe Biden looks on as he speaks during a barbecue for active-duty military families in honor of the Fourth of July on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, July 4, 2024. (AFP)
US President Joe Biden looks on as he speaks during a barbecue for active-duty military families in honor of the Fourth of July on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, July 4, 2024. (AFP)
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Biden Abruptly Changed His Mind about 2024 Race over Weekend, Sources Say

US President Joe Biden looks on as he speaks during a barbecue for active-duty military families in honor of the Fourth of July on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, July 4, 2024. (AFP)
US President Joe Biden looks on as he speaks during a barbecue for active-duty military families in honor of the Fourth of July on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, July 4, 2024. (AFP)

As of Saturday, President Joe Biden was still planning to stay in the 2024 presidential race. But on Sunday afternoon, he shocked many of his senior staff by telling them he was withdrawing just before making the decision public, sources familiar with the matter said.

The sources, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said Biden began to come to a decision on Saturday night that he should withdraw from the 2024 race. He had spent weeks defiantly insisting he would stay in the race despite pressure from some Democrats to pull out.

At 1:45 p.m. on Sunday, however, Biden told his senior team he had changed his mind and would withdraw, the sources said.

One minute later, at 1:46 p.m., Biden made his bombshell announcement.

The decision came less than a month after Biden had a disastrous debate against Republican Donald Trump that raised questions about the mental acuity of the 81-year-old Democratic president.

Biden came to his decision over the 48 hours preceding the announcement, after digesting large amounts of data and polls that showed his path to victory largely out of reach, two sources said. He agonized over the decision, but when he made up his mind, he moved quickly, a senior White House official said.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke multiple times on Sunday ahead of his announcement, a person familiar with their conversations said.

Biden, who has been at his Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, home since testing positive for COVID on Wednesday, shared his decision with his senior team by reading the letter to them that he would soon release publicly on social media.

"He read the letter to us and wanted us to understand his thinking. He said he had wrestled with it over the last 48 hours," the official said.

Shortly after the call, White House chief of staff Jeff Zients called senior White House staff together to inform them of the decision.

"This was really closely held," the official said. "It came as a surprise to most White House folks."

DIVIDED PARTY

After the debate, Biden began losing ground to Trump in battleground states, and Biden's campaign was pursuing a razor-thin path to reelection.

"It became hard with the growing opposition within the party. We have to be united going into November. That was a factor," the senior White House official said, while noting there had still been significant support for Biden across the country.

“I'm still processing it," said Marcus Mason, an at-large member of the Democratic National Convention.

"The president will go down in history as a patriot who put his country and party over his own ambitions," Mason said.

The president, still nursing a cough after his COVID diagnosis, had spent the weekend stewing over Democratic pressure to force him to leave the race, aides said. With him were long-time senior aides Annie Tomasini, Steve Richetti and Mike Donilon and a top aide to first lady Jill Biden, Anthony Bernal.

Biden had been particularly irked at former House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom Biden advisers believed was orchestrating a pressure campaign to get him to stand down.

Hours before the announcement, the Biden campaign denied reports he was planning to drop out.

"It is false. And I think that it is false to continue to try to gin up this narrative," deputy campaign manager Quentin Fulks told MSNBC's "The Weekend” on Sunday morning.

There were plenty of signs Biden had been thinking about pulling out for several days, with sources saying the Democratic incumbent had been doing some soul-searching.