NATO warns Russia over Turkish airspace violations
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday there had been a "troubling escalation" in Russian military activity in Syria, after Moscow dramatically expanded its air campaign.
Stoltenberg also said that NATO was ready to deploy forces in key alliance member Turkey if needed after Ankara complained about a series of airspace violations by Russian planes.
"In Syria, we have seen a troubling escalation of Russian military activities," Stoltenberg said as he went into a NATO defence ministers meeting dominated by the Syrian crisis.
"We will assess the latest developments and their implications for the security of the alliance," he said.
"This is particularly relevant in view of the recent violations of NATO's airspace by Russian aircraft," he added.
Russia launched its air campaign against what it terms "terrorist" targets in Syria last week but in the process, it has infringed on key NATO ally Turkey's airspace, prompting strong protests from the US-led alliance and Ankara.
On Wednesday, Moscow upped the ante dramatically with the launch of an unprecedented series of cruise missile attacks to cover a Syrian army ground offensive against rebels seeking the ouster of long-term Russian ally President Bashar al-Assad.
NATO has stationed anti-missile Patriot batteries in Turkey to protect it from any spill-over of the Syrian conflict but they are due to be removed later this year.
NATO "ready" to defend Turkey
Asked if NATO would now consider extending their mission in light of Russia's actions, Stoltenberg said: "NATO is ready and able ready to defend all allies against any threat, including Turkey."
He said NATO's decision to boost its readiness was not driven solely by Russia's intervention in favour of pro-Moscow rebels in Ukraine.
"It is a response both to the challenges we see to the East but also to the challenges we see to the South," he said.
"NATO has already responded by increasing our capacity, our ability our preparedness to deploy forces, including to the South, including in Turkey, if needed," he added.
Stoltenberg cautioned that the situation demanded more than ever a political solution and urged Russia to play a "constructive" role by not targetting the rebels in support of Assad.
"What we see is that there is a renewed need for political initiatives ... because in the long term there is no military solution," he said.
The 28-nation alliance has changed tack radically in the fallout from the Ukraine crisis after years of defence cuts, with leaders agreeing last year to increase spending and to set up a very rapid response force which should be operational from next year.
The makeover is meant to ensure that NATO can respond within days rather than weeks and months to any crisis in a fast changing world where the threat can take many forms, from a conventional military attack to cyber warfare.
Turkey warns Russia
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday warned Russia that Ankara has alternatives to Moscow for building its first nuclear power plant and importing gas, as tensions rise over the Russian bombing campaign in Syria.
Russia is building Turkey's first nuclear power plant in Akkuyu on the shores of the Mediterranean, a controversial $20 billion project aimed at improving its energy self sufficiency.
Turkey is also one of the top importers of Russian gas and had joined forces with Moscow in a major project to build a new gas pipeline underneath the Black Sea.
But speaking to Turkish reporters en route to Japan, Erdogan warned Moscow such cooperation was at risk due to its bombing of Syria and violations of Turkish airspace.
"Losing Turkey would entail significant losses for Russia," Erdogan said. "Others can build the Akkuyu plant if the Russians don't."
"Russia has already invested $3 billion in this project. In this case, it's Russia who should act with more prudence."
He added that energy-poor Turkey was even capable of going elsewhere for its natural gas supplies.
"We are a number one consumer of Russian natural gas. If necessary, Turkey can take its natural gas from many other different places," he added.
"We are saddened that Russia is acting in a way that could provoke the loss" of its economic interests in Turkey, he said.
Erdogan this week warned Russian President Vladimir Putin he risked losing Turkey as a friend if Moscow continues its behaviour in Syria.
Ankara, a NATO member, is furious over Russia's air campaign in Syria to prop up the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, who Turkey wants to see ousted.
Meanwhile, Russian warplanes have twice violated Turkish airspace.
On a visit to Ankara in December 2014, Putin announced that Turkey and Russia would team up to build a new TurkStream pipeline to pump Russian gas to Europe underneath the Black Sea and avoiding Ukraine.
But TurkStream appears to have become a casualty of the latest tensions, with Russian gas giant Gazprom on Wednesday saying that the project would be delayed.
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