NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg has said the Atlantic alliance is capable and ready to defend Turkey against any threat following the recent Russian incursion into Turkish airspace during their air strikes against anti-Assad groups in the country.
Stoltenberg has declared, “NATO is able and ready to defend all Allies, including Turkey against any threat,” in a statement on Thursday morning at the Defence Ministers meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Brussels.
“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 emphasised. The alliance has been in constant consultation with Turkey to “assess if there is need for something more,” NATO chief added, concerning Russian air strikes in Syria.
Stoltenberg drew attention to the efforts of the alliance and pointed out the establishment of a very high readiness joint task force to increase “the efficiency of decision making” against emerging threats from the East and also the South, mentioning particularly Syrian and Iraqi crisis in the Middle East.
Russian fighter jets have reportedly violated Turkish airspace near Syrian border on Saturday during their bombing campaign against Syrian opposition-held territories in the country, Russian operations began on Sept. 30 and have been strongly protested by Turkey, US, and the NATO.
The Russian air strikes have mainly targeted the Army of Conquest, which is an anti-Assad opposition alliance including US-supported militant groups.
There have also been reports on a second and third violation of Turkish airspace by MIG-29 fighter jets whose nationalities could not be identified by the Turkish Air Force.
Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu has strongly criticised the air strikes on Wednesday saying that, "[Russians] are not making their air strikes against DAESH [ISIS],” speaking in a meeting organised by his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in Istanbul.
“Russian Air Force has carried out 55 air strikes against moderate opposition groups out of a total of 57 air strikes in Syria. They have only carried out two attacks against DAESH according to our military sources,” he detailed.
US State Department spokesman, John Kirby also made a statement in parallel to Davutoglu’s remarks stating that, “Greater than 90 percent of the strikes that we’ve seen them take to date have not been against ISIL [ISIS] or Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists,” during a press briefing on October 7 in Washington, DC.
Russian air strikes have largely been targeting opposition groups which “want a better future for Syria and don’t want to see the Assad regime stay in power,” he added.
Kirby also warned the Russians and said that they are making “a mistake” with their Syrian intervention and “putting themselves at greater risk” by exacerbating political tensions inside the country.
Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan also declared the Russian military actions in Syria as “quite unacceptable,” on Sunday saying that “Unfortunately, Russia is making a grave mistake.”
“If Russia loses Turkey, it would lose a lot,” he added.
President has also given a notice to the Russians that the country puts its formidable relations with Turkey in danger with their Syrian intervention, at a press conference in Brussels on Tuesday following a meeting with Belgian Prime Minister, Charles Michel.
He said, “If the Russians were not building the Akkuyu [nuclear power plant] in Mersin, then, someone else would do it. They have already invested $3 billion there. Therefore, Russia should be more sensitive on this issue.”
Akkuyu, located in southern province of Mersin is Turkey’s first nuclear power plant project and it will be operated by Rosatom, which is the Russian state atomic energy corporation.
Russia will finance the plant which is valued at $22 billion. The construction will begin in 2016 and the planned four reactors will become fully operational in 2023, according to the agreement between the countries signed in 2010.
Japanese Toshiba, which is charged with building Turkey’s second nuclear power plant in northern Black Sea province of Sinop, has announced on Thursday that they are ready to take a new initiative for Turkey if the country wishes.
“As for our natural gas relations, we are the number one natural gas consumer of Russia. Losing Turkey will be a serious cost to Russia. Turkey could choose to find its natural gas from various providers [excluding Russia] if necessary,” Erdogan added.
Turkey is Russian state-run natural gas company Gazprom’s second biggest export market after Germany.
Another setback for Russian-Turkish relations came in mid-September, when Gazprom Deputy Chairman, Alexander Medvedev announced that Turkish Stream pipeline project will not be implemented by the end of 2016, as it has previously been planned because of continuing disagreements between Turkey and Russia.