The public burning of a Qur’an in Stockholm that angered Turkey to the point that it has threatened to permanently bar Sweden’s way to joining Nato was funded by a far-right journalist with links to Kremlin-backed media, Swedish press have revealed.
Media in Sweden have reported that the demonstration permit of 320 Swedish krona ($31) obtained by far-right politician and anti-Islam provocateur, Rasmus Paludan, was paid for by a former contributor to the Kremlin-backed TV channel RT, Chang Frick, who presently contributes to media spots of the far-right Sweden Democrats.
In an interview with The Insider website, Frick acknowledged that he paid for the permit to hold the protest, but claimed “it wasn’t my idea” for Paludan to burn the Muslim holy book and that he had not supported Russia since its annexation of Crimea. However, whatever the story behind the permit payment, Turkey has objected to the very fact that a permit can be issued in Sweden for such a protest in the first place.
Stockholm argues that officials who granted the permit would have had no way of knowing what exactly would take place during the protest and that, anyway, banning such far-right gatherings is not an option as—although the actions of Paludan were abhorrent—permitting such protests is a question of protecting the right to free speech.
To join Nato, Sweden, as well as Nordic neighbour Finland, which is also applying to join the defence alliance, require the approval of all 30 Nato member countries.
Even before the Qur’an burning, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was taking a hard-nosed approach to the Swedish bid for Nato membership—and offering only slightly more encouragement that he might arrange Turkish ratification of the Finnish bid—as he argued that the Nordic countries, particularly Sweden, were not doing nearly enough to pursue for extradition individuals Ankara claims are Kurdish and Gulenist militants and terrorists.
After the burning of the Qur’an—an incident that came only a week after a Stockholm-based Kurdish group hung an effigy of an executed Erdogan upside down outside Stockholm city hall—Erdogan asserted: “Those who allow such blasphemy in front of our embassy can no longer expect our support for their Nato membership.”
A big difficulty for Sweden and Finland as they try to persuade Erdogan to reconsider his position on their Nato applications is that the Turkish strongman has gone into general election mode—parliamentary and presidential elections will take place in Turkey on May 14. The reasons he has given for not waving through the Nato bids of Stockholm and Helsinki play well with his core vote.
The prospect of Turkey refusing to budge on the admission of the two countries into the military alliance has prompted some commentators to warn that there will be Nato member countries who might consider recommending that the Turks should be kicked out of Nato in favour of inviting in the Swedes and the Finns.
Finnish officials have briefed that they are hopeful Turkey will agree to the Nato memberships soon after the conclusion of its elections, whatever the outcome of those polls.