NATO head says Russia's Turkey air violations 'not an accident'
BRUSSELS - Agence France-Presse
AFP photoNATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Oct. 6 that Russian violations of Turkish airspace were "not an accident" after Turkey complained of two incursions by Moscow's jets.
"For us, this does not look like an accident, it is a serious violation," Stoltenberg told reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels ahead of a meeting of the alliance's defence ministers later this week.
"Actually there were two violations during the weekend... the violations were for a long time compared to previous violations of airspace we have seen elsewhere in Europe," he said.
Stoltenberg was apparently referring to an upsurge in Russian flights testing out the defences of NATO's Baltic and eastern European allies in the fallout from the Ukraine conflict.
Turkey summoned the Russian ambassador to Ankara for a second time after a new violation of its air space by a Russian warplane close to the Syrian border, a foreign ministry official said on Oct. 6.
Russia said Oct. 5 that one of its warplanes had briefly entered Turkish airspace during raids in Syria at the weekend due to bad weather and that measures were being taken to avoid a repeat.
Stoltenberg said such incursions were "unacceptable" and "may create a dangerous situation. It is important to make sure this does not happen again."
NATO said subsequently that Stoltenberg "has confirmed that NATO military authorities will contact Russian military authorities using existing lines of military-to-military communications regarding these incidents."
NATO has stationed Patriot missiles on Turkey's southern border with Syria to prevent any spillover from a conflict which has left 250,000 people dead and sparked a mass exodus of migrants seeking safety in Europe.
The missiles are however due to be pulled out shortly and it is uncertain if they will be replaced.
Asked whether their mission would be extended, Stoltenberg said the initial deployment was meant to help defend Turkey against missile attack from Syria.
"What we have seen now is something different ... We are constantly reviewing the security situation and will take decisions accordingly," he said.
"Russian actions will be factored into those assessments. We are now in dialogue with Turkey and other allies about what kind of presence will be there for the next year."
He added that the 28-member alliance was also looking at boosting its naval presence on its southern flanks.
NATO defence ministers meet in Brussels Thursday to review progress on boosting the alliance's rapid response force, largely drawn up in response to the Ukraine crisis.
Meanwhile, Russia's NATO envoy said on Oct. 6 he thought the military alliance was using the accidental incursion of a Russian plane into Turkish airspace to distort the aims of Moscow's air campaign in Syria, according to the TASS news agency.
"The impression is that the incident in Turkish airspace was used to plug NATO as an organisation into the information campaign waged by the West to distort the aims of the operations carried out by the Russian air force in Syria," Alexander Grushko, Russia's NATO envoy, was quoted as telling reporters in Brussels.