Strongmen in Turkey and Hungary stall unity in Nato and the EU

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blocked a procedural vote on Nato moving ahead quickly with the membership applications. PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS (NYTIMES) - Europe's effort to stand up to Russia and Vladimir Putin, its president, is being slowed by two strongmen leaders insisting on the priority of their national interests and playing to domestic audiences.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey on Wednesday (May 18) blocked a procedural vote on Nato moving ahead quickly with the membership applications of Sweden and Finland, handed in with much publicity on Wednesday morning, a senior European diplomat said.

And Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary continues to block even a watered-down European Union effort to put an embargo on Russian oil, part of a sixth package of sanctions aimed at Moscow for its war against Ukraine.

While Nato and the EU have shown remarkable unity in their response to Putin's war, the actions of the two leaders show the strains building as the war drags on, peace talks appear to go nowhere, and Western sanctions are contributing to economic pain and high inflation at home, as well as in Russia.

Erdogan and Orban may be outliers in their organisations, but they are able to use the requirement for consensus in both Nato and the EU to get their political concerns addressed by blocking the action of all the others, even temporarily.

On Wednesday, a meeting of Nato ambassadors could not reach consensus on a first vote to proceed with the requests for membership because Turkey said it first wanted Nato to address its security concerns. In particular, Turkey wants Finland and especially Sweden to end what Erdogan has called support for "terrorist organisations" in their countries.

National security is Orban's argument, too. Hungary is dependent on Russia for its energy, getting 85 per cent of its natural gas and 65 per cent of its oil supply from Russia, as well as using Russian technology for its nuclear power plants.

Diplomats said that they expected Orban eventually to acquiesce to an oil embargo, having secured both a long extension and extra funding for Hungary, but that he could drag the talks out even longer, perhaps until the end of the month when leaders are due to meet in person in Brussels to talk about Ukraine.

Nato officials expressed the same confidence about Erdogan - that he will eventually agree to back Sweden and Finland joining Nato in return for some concessions that will help him politically at home, with his economy in crisis and new elections only a year away.

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