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Why the Kurdish YPG Is an Issue in Sweden’s NATO Bid

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Photographer: Jake Simkin/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

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As Sweden and Finland moved toward applying for membership in NATO in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they had expected no resistance. All 30 countries in the alliance must agree before a new member can join. Suddenly, Turkey voiced concerns, accusing Sweden of ties to a group it considers terrorist. That group is the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, a Kurdish militia in Syria that was instrumental in the defeat of the Islamic State there. Turkey views the YPG as a security threat due to its ties to separatist Kurds in Turkey. 

As the armed wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party of Syria, it seeks autonomy for Syria’s Kurds and has shown a willingness to work with any power capable of advancing that goal. The party itself was formed in 2003 as an offshoot of the PKK, a group that seeks an autonomous region for Kurds inside Turkey, which has fought Turkish forces on and off since 1984, and is outlawed by Turkey and considered a terrorist organization by the US and the European Union. The YPG ranks are thought to include tens of thousands of fighters.