ISTANBUL – For the past year, the leaders of many NATO countries have viewed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey as an internal short-circuit.
As they tried to isolate President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia for his invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Erdogan referred to Mr. Putin as “my friend.” While other leaders have worked to expand the alliance, Mr. Erdogan has held up the process by seeking concessions for Turkey.
Then on Monday, suddenly, Mr Erdogan reversed, dropping his objections to Sweden joining NATO and allowing the alliance’s summit to convene on Tuesday with a new sense of strength and unity.
Mr. Erdogan’s turnaround is consistent with his political style: He often doubles down on policies he expects to strengthen him, then unapologetically discards them after their value has diminished, analysts said.
In this case, he seems to have realized that he had little more to gain from a continued blockade of Sweden, but could potentially benefit much more from repairing his sour relations with the United States and his other NATO allies.
“This is not Erdogan’s first U-turn and it won’t be the last,” said Osman Sert, the research director of PanoramaTR, a Turkish risk analysis organization. “Mr. Erdogan knows he has to do something to create a bridge to the West.”
For more than a year since Sweden applied to join Nato after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Mr Erdogan has been the main stumbling block, accusing Sweden of harboring dissidents whom Turkey considers terrorists and vowing to let Sweden join Nato only after when it was oppressive. on them.
And Sweden responded, a victory for Mr. Erdogan. Sweden toughened its anti-terror laws, changed its constitution and agreed to extradite some people Turkey had requested.
Turkey won some more concessions by announcing its acceptance of Sweden on Monday: Sweden agreed to continue its counter-terrorism efforts and increase economic cooperation with Turkey.
But other issues may have played a bigger role in changing Mr. Erdogan’s mind, analysts said.
Turkey tried to buy F-16 fighter jets and other military equipment from the United States, but the deal was held up by Congress, where some members said they would not approve it unless Turkey allowed Sweden to join NATO. Biden administration officials have denied the two issues are linked, but some Turkish analysts said informal assurances from US officials that President Biden would work to push the deal forward likely played a large role.
Ahead of private talks with Mr Biden on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, on Tuesday, Mr Erdogan described their meeting as “the first step” in a stronger relationship.
“All our previous meetings were like warm-up rounds, but right now we are launching a new process,” Mr Erdogan said.
He wished Mr Biden good luck in the upcoming US elections, saying the two men could work together for the remainder of the new five-year term Mr Erdogan won in May.
“Thank you very much,” Mr. Biden replied, saying he looked forward to working together “for the next five years.”
Mr Erdogan is also likely aware that the patience of his NATO allies is beginning to wear thin and that continuing to hold Sweden’s bid for membership will worsen relations. Turkey is the only NATO country that has not imposed sanctions on Russia, which has led some Western officials to question Turkey’s loyalty to the alliance.
“Turkey has made the assessment that the possible additional benefits they could gain by prolonging the process are no longer worth the pressure that Turkey would need to face,” said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, the director of the Ankara office of the German Marshall- Fund of the United States. .
The change, he said, also appeared to be part of an effort by Mr. Erdogan to move Turkey away from Russia and toward the West. That would be significant if sustained, he said.
“Turkey and Russia did not have and do not have a love affair,” Mr. Unluhisarcikli said. Instead, they engage in “competitive cooperation,” he said, and tend to draw closer when Turkey feels distant from the West.
As signs of Mr Erdogan distancing Turkey from Russia, he cited Turkey’s decision to allow fighters from Ukraine’s Azov Regiment to return to Ukraine from Turkey last weekend, angering Russia, as well as Mr Erdogan’s failure to stand unequivocally by Mr. Putin as a Wagner mercenary. forces marched towards Moscow in June.
“Erdogan may have assessed that putting all the eggs in Putin’s basket is not a good idea,” he said.
On the other hand, allowing Sweden to join NATO and work out the F-16 deal could allow Mr. Erdogan to warm up what has been a cool relationship with Washington.
Mr. Biden has held Mr. Erdogan at arm’s length since he entered the White House. During his election campaign, he characterized Mr. Erdogan as anti-democratic and pledged to support the Turkish opposition. Mr. Erdogan, for his part, had cordial relations with the former president Donald J. Trump.
Mr Biden and Mr Erdogan have previously met during Mr Biden’s presidency, but Mr Biden is the first US president not to host Mr Erdogan in the White House since the Turkish leader began his national political career in 2002.
Gulsin Harman contributed reporting.