REVIEW - Day 2 Of NATO Defense Ministers' Meeting Gets Deeper Take On Russia's Missiles, Turkey

(@FahadShabbir)

REVIEW - Day 2 of NATO Defense Ministers' Meeting Gets Deeper Take on Russia's Missiles, Turkey

BRUSSELS (UrduPoint News / Sputnik - 13th February, 2020) The second day of the NATO defense ministers' meeting in Brussels has so far brought no major surprises, rather reiterating and elaborating on priority areas outlined during day one, including Russia's SSC-8 missiles and Turkey's activities in Syria and Libya.

On Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced that the defense ministers had agreed to enhance the alliance's training mission in Iraq. He said "in the first instance, this will consist of taking on some of the Global Coalition's current training activities," and that the ministers had agreed to "explore what more we can do beyond this first step."

Afghanistan also got a spotlight during the meeting's first day, with Stoltenberg saying that "NATO fully supports the US-led peace efforts, which can pave the way for intra-Afghan talks." On behalf of the alliance he urged the Taliban to demonstrate both willingness and capability to reduce violence.

The secretary general listed a number of other priority areas the detailed discussion of which was expected to extend into the second day, among them Russia's missiles, Turkey's activities in Syria and Libya, as well as the continuation of the discussion on Afghanistan.

RUSSIAN MISSILES AND ARMS CONTROL

In the cornerstone of NATO's worries about Russia are the latter's short- and intermediate-range missiles SSC-8 which the alliance believes was what had collapsed the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty it required the United States and Russia to eliminate and permanently forswear all nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (310-3,417 miles).

"We have consulted closely over many years. And all Allies have agreed on every step. Including on a package of defensive, measured and coordinated measures in response to the demise of the Treaty. This includes adapting our planning and exercises, as well as our conventional, nuclear, and air and missile defense posture," Stoltenberg said at a press conference on Thursday.

Repeating exactly what he said on Wednesday in his doorstep statement to the meeting, Stoltenberg said the NATO would not "mirror what Russia does."

"We have no intention to deploy new land-based nuclear-missiles in Europe. But we will keep our deterrence and defense effective to protect our people," he said.

While the central premise of his statements on Russia were specifically the SSC-8 missiles, Stoltenberg further said that they were "only part of Russia's missile build-up" and that the NATO ministers had discussed "the broader challenge, which includes other Russian missile systems, conventional and nuclear, currently deployed or under development."

Answering a journalist's question on the matter, Stoltenberg said the deployment of SSC-8 missiles was "part of a pattern we have seen over several years - Russia investing heavily in new modern capabilities, advanced missile systems, dual capability systems, and also systems that are reducing the warning time significantly."

These systems are "serious challenges to the stability and the security of European allies," according to Stoltenberg, and the reason why NATO "already started to respond to this pattern of Russian behavior by implementing the biggest reinforcement of [its] collective defense since the end of Cold War." Among the response measures he listed high readiness of forces and combat capabilities in the alliance's eastern part, investments in new high-end capabilities and increase of defense spending.

At the same time, he mentioned during the opening remarks to the press conference that ministers had stressed "NATO's strong commitment to arms control and disarmament." He said the discussion of these issues would continue with the aims of taking further decisions later this year.

Another issue actively discussed in the lobbies of the alliance's brand new headquarters in Evere-Brussels was Turkey calling upon NATO to support it in the strife against Russia-backed Syrian government forces in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib.

Speaking with Sputnik on a condition of anonymity, a NATO diplomat said "Turkey seems incapable of neutralizing the worst terrorist organizations in Idlib, most notably Hayat Tahrir al-Sham [formerly known as the Nusra front, outlawed in Russia]. It is only normal that Damascus tries to regain control of the region.

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"Turkey is afraid of a new influx of refugees from Idlib, but it is impossible to understand how Turkey could call on support from its NATO allies, based on Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty Charter, while Turkey is the invader of Syrian territory in Kurdistan. They cannot call for 'solidarity' when they are the assailants," the diplomat said.

The past week saw the situation in Idlib escalate amid clashes between the Syrian and Turkish forces and a parallel intensification of attacks by terrorists.

Speaking at the press conference on Thursday, Stoltenberg described the situation in Idlib as "really, really serious."

Clearly, the secretary general is ill at ease with the Turkish call for support to NATO while Turkey itself is the aggressor in Syria's Kurd-populated areas. In that tinder box, if NATO deployed military means to support Ankara, as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan asks the allies to do, it would lead to a danger of direct confrontation with Russia.

There is an ally, however, which seems eager to exploit the Turkish-Russian tensions over Idlib to rebuild a relationship with Ankara that has gone from bad to worse in recent years. US Secretary of State for Defense Mark Esper met with his Turkish counterpart, Hulusi Akar, in Brussels to discuss how the United States and NATO can contribute to the settlement of the situation in Idlib.

Earlier this week, Washington's readiness to step in was signaled by US Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey who said "Today, our NATO ally Turkey is facing a threat from [Syrian President Bashar] Assad's government and Russia. We are here to assess the situation with the Turkish government and offer support if possible."

But for the Europeans, it is very difficult to openly confront Erdogan. The man could re-open the floodgates of illegal migration to Europe through the Mediterranean. He has already threatened the Europeans to do so several times over the past year.

Speaking on the matter on Thursday, Stoltenberg called upon the "Russian-backed Syrian regime to stop all the attacks and to engage in US-led talks to find a peaceful solution."

Replying to a question on Turkey's military presence in Libya, the secretary general said "we [NATO] stand ready to help Libya with capacity building if they ask for it and if the conditions make that possible, but there is no NATO presence on the ground."

At the same time, Stoltenberg said that NATO supported efforts by individual allies on Libya. As an example, he brought up the conference hosted by Berlin in January which he described as "an important initiative to get the peace talks and the political process moving."

LITTLE MORE ON AFGHANISTAN and IRAQ

NATO is apparently determined to continue training, assisting and advising the local armed forces both in Iraq and in Afghanistan - Stoltenberg used the same words to describe NATO's engagement in both cases.

"The situation remains difficult. But we remain firmly committed to Afghanistan's long-term security and stability. Our focus remains on the same: to provide the Afghan security forces with training and financial support. So that they can fight terrorism and create the conditions for peace," the secretary general said.

He once again reiterated that "we [NATO] fully support the efforts led by the United States to achieve a peaceful solution. And Allies continue to coordinate closely on the way forward."

"We are in Afghanistan to make sure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists, that is in our interest to prevent that from happening," Stoltenberg said with a pat on his chest on the word "ours" in response to a journalist's question.

As for Iraq, Stoltenberg again stressed that NATO was in the country at the invitation of its government. According to the secretary general, during his contacts with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi, "the government of Iraq has confirmed to us their desire for continuation of the NATO training, advising and capacity building activities for the Iraqi armed forces, and we will only stay in Iraq as long as we are welcomed."

He said NATO, as a party of the global coalition of troops in Iraq, supports it, and the two are currently are looking into ways to better coordinate and possibly change some of the responsibilities between them.

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