NATO has said it was prepared to send troops to Turkey to defend its ally after violations of Turkish airspace by Russian jets bombing Syria and Britain scolded Moscow for escalating a civil war that has already killed 250,000 people.
Officials at the U.S.-led alliance are still smarting from Russia’s weekend incursions into Turkey’s airspace near northern Syria and NATO defense ministers are meeting in Brussels with the agenda likely to be dominated by the Syria crisis.
“NATO is ready and able to defend all allies, including Turkey against any threats,” NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters as he arrived for the meeting.
“NATO has already responded by increasing our capacity, our ability, our preparedness to deploy forces including to the south, including in Turkey,” he said, noting that Russia’s air and cruise missile strikes were “reasons for concern”.
“Above all, Turkey is an ally of the U.S. and a member of NATO. So can you imagine that these two states [the U.S. and Russia] would be on the same line in any wrongdoing against Turkey? It’s not possible,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said late on Oct. 6, speaking to journalists en route from Brussels to Tokyo.
As Russian and U.S. planes fly combat missions over the same country for the first time since World War II, NATO is eager to avoid any international escalation of the Syrian conflict that has unexpectedly turned the alliance’s attention away from Ukraine following Russia’s annexation of Crimea last year.
The incursions of two Russian fighters in Turkish airspace on Oct. 3 and and 4 has brought the Syria conflict right up to NATO’s borders, testing the alliance’s ability to deter a newly assertive Russia without seeking direct confrontation.
“There has to be a political solution, a transition,” Stoltenberg said. “Russia is making a very serious situation in Syria much more dangerous,” Britain’s defence minister, Michael Fallon said, calling on Moscow to use its influence on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stop bombing civilians.
Turkey appealed to its NATO allies on Oct. 8 to shore up missile defenses in the country aimed at shooting down Syrian rockets, as Germany said again that it will withdraw its Patriot batteries and the United States was set to do the same. Days after Russian jets violated Turkey’s airspace near Syria, Ankara’s NATO envoy urged the U.S.-led alliance to continue to deploy air defense systems, according to two people briefed on talks at a defence ministers meeting in Brussels.
Germany’s defense minister said Berlin would go ahead with plans to switch off its Patriot batteries in Turkey next week and withdraw most of the soldiers operating them before Christmas. All soldiers and materiel are due to be withdrawn by the end of January.
“This decision [to withdraw the Patriots] is right,” Ursula von der Leyen said as she arrived for the meeting.
“The question is what danger can be warded off in which way,” she said.