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Complicated History of NATO-Russia Power Rivalry: Türkiye’s Policies and Sweden's Membership

The tension between Ukraine and Russia was evident after the collapse of the Soviet

Union. The first crisis with Ukraine, which broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991, was the sharing of the Black Sea fleet. In addition, the fact that Ukraine kept most of the nuclear weapons left by the Soviets on its territory worried Russia. In 1994, in return for an agreement that Russia and other states would recognize Ukraine's independence and territorial integrity, Ukraine handed over its nuclear weapons to Russia for destruction. Although the problems seemed to be resolved with the treaty of friendship and cooperation signed in 1997, the claim that a Russian plane was shot down by Ukraine's S-200 in 2001 made relations tense again. 2004 was a very important election year for Ukraine; because of protests and repeated elections, Yushchenko came to power, but Russia would not allow the pro-western administration and cut off Ukraine's gas and then sell the most expensive natural gas to Ukraine. In 2013, the Yanukovych administration's failure to sign the EU-Ukraine cooperation agreement sparked massive protests. In 2014, the annexation of Crimea took place, and it is voiced by Ukraine and the UN that the referendum held in Crimea is dubious. Due to the excess of the Russian population in Donetsk and Luhansk, independent people's republics were established in these two regions, with Russia's support of militarist actions.

Ukrainian nationalists are very uncomfortable with Putin's interpretation of history, which does not even recognize the existence of their nation, and the Holodomor is a huge historical tragedy for Ukrainians and fuels hatred for Russia. The country wants to get closer to the West and even to join NATO, and Western states sympathize with Ukraine's participation in NATO, yet no real steps are taken. But what happened to the promises made to Gorbachev? It is asserted that James Barker promised Gorbachev not to go ahead of Germany in return for Germany becoming an independent state and joining NATO, but this was not a formal agreement, and with the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO incorporated most of the eastern European countries. In 2021, Zelensky's declarations of membership in NATO were considered a reason for the war on the Russian side because if Ukraine became a member, the Black Sea would become a NATO lake. Putin claimed that NATO was not concerned with Ukraine's security. Its only goal is to use Ukraine to prevent Russia's development, he stated. In December 2021, Russia presented its three conditions, but NATO did not take them seriously and initiated the invasion of Ukraine a few months later.

Due to its geopolitical position, Türkiye is a very important country for the strategies to be implemented in the continent. It both controls the straits and is important in the conduct of military operations due to its location. For these reasons, the side Türkiye would choose was very important, but a balanced policy was implemented until after the second world war. Everything changed with the end of the second world war; the Soviets did not renew the Turkish-Russian peace treaty, and it was claimed they wanted Kars and Ardahan from Türkiye. In this case, Ismet Inonu established the first relations with America, and in this context, the army and economy were strengthened by receiving Marshall’s aid. In the Democratic Party government, Türkiye’s support for South Korea in the Korean War showed their complete loyalty to the Western bloc. Two years later, Türkiye joined NATO and has been an important member of the union ever since. The reactions within the country to the relations with America were different, some of them were very pleased with this situation, some of them accepted this situation as a necessity even though they were not very happy, and some of them thought that these relations violated the independence of the country. It was claimed that with the aid, Türkiye would start relying on Americans day by day. They were not completely wrong because when America refused to give aid, the Menderes government faced serious economic problems, and in 1964, President Johnson wrote a menacing letter about Cyprus, reminding them of the aid.

Many situations, such as the F-35 and S-400 problem, disagreements about Fetullah Gülen's extradition, and strategic issues in Syria, disturbed the Turkish government and led to the implementation of a policy approaching Russia which is not welcomed by NATO. Türkiye's loyalty is questioned, and many allies claim that Türkiye does not have the democratic values required by NATO. The government, on the other hand, claims that NATO has never provided sufficient support for Türkiye's national security policies, so as an independent state, close relations with Russia, one of the neighboring states, are normal. Their officials also reiterated that the country is a supporter of the NATO enlargement policy as long as candidates do not threaten its security. They draw attention to the fact that the country knows its responsibility as an ally with its efforts to mediate with Russia on the Ukraine issue, its allowance for the passage of grain in the Black Sea, and military aid sent to Ukraine.

The last discussion was on the inclusion of Sweden in NATO. NATO membership is desired due to the collective defense principle, which makes all allies defend the member country together if another force attacks. Finland was able to become a member by fulfilling Türkiye's requirements, but Sweden's membership was much delayed. Some commentators give the following answer to the public's curiosity about Türkiye's removal from NATO; although there is no definite article on this subject, it can be made possible. However, Türkiye's experienced army and its geopolitical position are very important, so this step does not seem politically possible. Due to the protests about the burning of the Qur'an, very harsh statements were made until a week ago, but on July 10, Sweden's membership was officially supported. Sweden will take action against the supporters of the terrorist organizations YPG/PYD and PKK in its country and will support Türkiye on issues such as visa liberalization and customs union.

Many events took place on the continent and beyond because of the relations between NATO and Russia, which are not included in this long article. The impossibility of the existence of a supervisory institution in international relations pushes states to develop policies to retain power. This situation traps humanity in inevitable cycles, and as you may understand, historical tensions follow our destinies.

Written by Nehir Türkmen

Edited by Melisa Altıntaş & Yağmur Ece Nisanoğlu

Works Cited:

"PUTİN ASLINDA NE İSTİYOR? UKRAYNA GERÇEKLERİ! " posted by Argonomi, YouTube, 30 August 2022

Kerem, Sonat. “Rusya-Ukrayna: İki dost nasıl düşman oldu?” BBC, 30 November 2018

Itkowitz, Joshua R. “NATO Expansion: What Gorbachev Heard | National Security Archive.” National Security Archive, 12 December 2017

“What is Nato and when will Ukraine join?” BBC, 13 July 2023

“Küçük Amerika yolunda feda edilen büyük Türkiye: Truman Doktrini ve ABD yardımları.” Independent Türkçe, 22 May 2020

“II. Turkey's and NATO's views on current issues of the Alliance / Republic of Türkiye Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

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