NATO to back Turkey with ships, jets against Russia
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses a press conference a day ahead of NATO's foreign ministers meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels on November 30, 2015. AFP PHOTO / EMMANUEL DUNAND
NATO allies plan to send patrol aircraft and missiles to strengthen Ankara’s air defenses on its border with Syria, officials said Dec. 1, while NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was working on new support measures for Turkey.
Diplomats said measures were likely to include more ships from NATO members in the eastern Mediterranean, more NATO planes based at the İncirlik Air Base, located in Turkey’s south, and more missile defense batteries in addition to that of Spain, according to Reuters.
“We will work on further measures to assure Turkey’s security,” Stoltenberg was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse at the start of the two-day NATO Foreign Ministerial meeting in Brussels, which was dominated by Syria, Ukraine and relations with a “more assertive” Russia, as well as future plans in Afghanistan.
“I would like to underline... that this is something not related to the incident last week,” Stoltenberg said in reference to Turkey downing a Russian jet on Nov. 24 on the grounds of an airspace violation.
“It has been going on for several years as part of our commitment to an ally,” he said, adding that he expected a decision on a package “within weeks.”
The NATO chief did not specify what the new measures would involve but said the alliance had for many years helped Turkey with its air defenses.
Spanish Patriot missiles currently only NATO air defense capability
As NATO countries seek to reassure Ankara over the fallout of Russia’s incursions into its airspace, a decision by Germany and the United States to remove their Patriot missile batteries from Turkey led other allies to fill the gap.
While the German and U.S. steps were announced weeks ago, Russia’s surprise intervention in Syria’s civil war in September galvanized NATO countries to offer additional help to Turkey’s Air Force.
Spain is now the only NATO nation with Patriots in Turkey.
“We must make full use of the capabilities we have to counter threats on NATO’s southern flank,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told Reuters in Brussels during meetings with other NATO foreign ministers, as offers of ships and aircraft began to trickle in from allies.
“We must support our ally Turkey,” he said.
Turkey-Syria border ‘highly unstable’
NATO foreign ministers said in a statement that the situation on Turkey’s border with Syria and Iraq was “highly unstable” and that the alliance was committed to increasing Turkey’s air defenses, which they described as “assurance measures.”
“We remain determined ... to continue developing additional NATO assurance measures and allies are working to prepare other possible contributions,” the ministers said.
Moscow, which denies violating Turkish air space, responded to the downing of its jet by announcing it would deploy its advanced S-400 missile defense system that can hit missiles and aircraft up to 400 kilometers away.
Russian news agencies also reported that Su-34 fighter bombers were in action in Syria on Nov. 30 for the first time, equipped with air-to-air missiles for self-defense.
While the Turkish Air Force has shown it is capable of intercepting Russian jets on bombing raids in Syria that stray into Turkish airspace, ministers say sending military support to Turkey is also designed to reassure Ankara and calm tensions.
Some, including Germany and the Netherlands, want Turkey and NATO headquarters to discuss the air incursions with Russia.
“There is a necessity to talk military and military between NATO and the Russian Federation to avoid these kinds of incidents, conflicts, because they are very risky,” Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders told reporters.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called for NATO envoys to hold a special meeting with Russia. Such meetings were suspended by NATO foreign ministers in April last year after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.