NATO doubles its response force due to Russian escalation

NATO Secretary General announces decision to double joint multinational response force as Russia steps up military actions in Syria

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg chairs a NATO defence ministers meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium October 8, 2015.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday that the union will double its quick response joint multinational force as Russia escalates its military activities in Syria.

‘’NATO is on the ground; we have everything in place now to make the Response Force stronger, faster and more capable. This force will count up to 40,000 troops’’ he said in a press conference after a NATO meeting in Brussels.

NATO defence ministers met on Thursday in Brussels over Russia’s military escalation in Syria and recent airspace violation in Turkey, a day after Russia carried out its first major coordinated assault alongside Syrian regime forces.

About the new force, Stoltenberg said  "That’s twice as many troops as the current level of troops in the NATO Response Force and the ‘Spearhead Force’ will be able to start deploying in as little as 48 hours."

NATO chief also said that they would  create new headquarters in Hungary and Slovakia which will ensure NATO forces to move quickly and effectively if they need to deploy,

The NATO Response Force was launched in 2002 and it “consists of a highly capable joint multinational force able to react in a very short time to the full range of security challenges from crisis management to collective defense."

The union decided to enhance the NATO Response Force in 2014 by forming a “Spearhead Force’’ within it, which is known as the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force.

In his speech, Stoltenberg also called for a political solution in Syria while he emphasized the need for NATO to protect its allies in relation to Russia’s violation of Turkish airspace.

"We need a political solution to the crisis in Syria more than ever and we supports efforts of United Nations for this purpose," he said.

"We see an escalation of Russian military activity in Syria; NATO defense ministers think that Russia’s military actions in Syria raise serious concerns."

While Stoltenberg called Russia's actions for the regime ‘’unhelpful’’ he asked Russia to "play a constructive role in the fight against ISIS.’’

"The recent violations of Turkish airspace are unacceptable," Stoltenberg said while he reiterated his support for Turkey which has the second largest army in NATO.

"Turkey is a strong ally…the important thing is that they know they are part of NATO," Stoltenberg said.

NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg told reporters before the NATO meeting that the group is ready to send troops to defend Turkey if needed and Russia should stop escalating the conflict which has killed 250,000 people in Syria.

British Defence Minister, Michael Fallon also urged Russia to press Bashar al Assad to stop bombing civilians.

"Russia is making a very serious situation in Syria much more dangerous," Fallon said.

British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg attend a NATO Defence Ministers meeting at the alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium October 8, 2015. (Reuters)

Russia is claiming that its warplanes are targeting ISIS positions in Syria. However, the US State Department spokesman, John Kirby said during a press briefing that only small part of the assaults were targeting ISIS.

"I’ve seen the video of it, and I’ll let Moscow speak to what they’re doing militarily. What our concern is more about the impact that the military activity is having inside Syria in terms of going after groups that are not ISIS and not Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists. And greater than 90 percent of the strikes that we’ve seen them take to date have not been against ISIS and not Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists," Kirby said. 

"They’ve been largely against opposition groups, groups that want a better future for Syria and don’t want to see the Assad regime stay in power."

Stoltenberg said NATO is ready and able to defend all allies, including Turkey, "NATO has already responded by increasing our capacity, our ability, our preparedness to deploy forces including to the south, including in Turkey."

On Saturday, a Russian fighter jet violated Turkish airspace. Igor Konashenkov, Russian Defence Ministry spokesperson said the reason of the violation was “unfavourable weather conditions.”

Shortly after, a Russian warplane violated Turkish airspace two more times, harrassing Turkish F-16 jets and locked its radar on to them, a Turkish Foreign Ministry official said.

The White House and NATO expressed their concerns about Russia’s violation of Turkey airspace.

US Secretary of State, John Kerry has described the incursions as a “provocation” saying that if Turkey responded, it could have resulted in a shoot out.

The NATO said that its members were strongly protesting and condemning the violations of Turkish and NATO airspace and called on Russia to stop violations.

Jens Stoltenberg of NATO said on Thursday that Russia’s violation “does not look like an accident” as it didn't officially provide “any real explanation” over the violations of Turkish airspace.

He also expressed his support to Turkey on Twitter. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also strongly criticised Russian military activities in Syria and violation of Turkish airspace. The Turkish president made his remarks on Tuesday in Brussels saying that losing Turkey would be costly for Russia.

Although the disagreement between Turkey and Russia has incrementally increased due to Syrian politics, they have had a cordial relationship in terms of the energy sector, particularly concerning the Turkish Stream.

Turkey and Russia are important trade partners and Russia should be careful about its actions. Otherwise Turkey, an important customer of Russia, may seek other ways to get natural gas Erdogan said.

“It is impossible to tolerate this kind of behaviour. It is also against NATO’s [declared] principles, so it replied [with full force]. Whatever is done against Turkey is done against NATO,” he added.

TRTWorld and agencies