2019.11.28 10:47

Turkey holds Baltic NATO plans hostage over Syria – 'it's not the first time'

Andrius Balčiūnas, LRT.lt2019.11.28 10:47

When the media revealed Turkey's move to block updated NATO defence plans for the Baltic states and Poland over Syria, online comment sections in Lithuania filled with calls to boycott Turkish goods and holiday destinations. Yet, it wasn't the first time the Baltics became hostage to Ankara.

"Turkey has used this tactic before,” Sven Sakkov, director of Estonia’s International Centre for Defence and Security, told “I don’t think it’s somehow related to the Baltic states, [but the regional defence plan] simply ended up being on the table at the same time as questions on northern Syria, Turkey, and YPG appeared in October.”

Reuters reported on Tuesday that Ankara was blocking the regional NATO defence plan in the Baltics until the alliance showed political support to Turkey over its invasion in northern Syria.

Turkey wants NATO to designate the Kurdish YPG militia, which makes up the backbone of the Western-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, as a terrorist organisation.

“Defence plans of the Baltic states and Poland became hostage,” said Sakkov. However, the issue shouldn’t be seen too dramatically, he added, because the discussions are centred on an update to the existing plans.

Turkey had also previously used NATO in the Baltics and Poland as a bargaining chip.

LRT TV ‘Panorama’ programme reported in July that Ankara called for NATO to back Turkey's defence plans on its southern borders, and threatened to block future NATO decisions.

On Wednesday, a Turkish source told Reuters that "if ours [defence plan] isn’t published, we won’t allow the other [plan for the Baltics and Poland to be published] either," indicating Ankara isn't willing back down.

The Turkish defence plan includes contingencies if attacked from the south, where it borders with Syria, and designating YPG as a "terrorist threat," according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, the Lithuanian foreign minister, as well as the president, have expressed hope that the issue can be solved before the NATO summit in London on December 3-4.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda said on Wednesday that NATO was capable of reaching “a solution that will satisfy all sides,” and called for a compromise.

The country’s foreign minister, Linas Linkevičius, acknowledged that Turkey wanted NATO’s official documents to reflect Ankara’s position on “certain Kurdish groups”. However, Linkevičius said “the process is ongoing” and was hopeful that NATO would make a decision before the summit.

Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu told the country’s national broadcaster ERR that NATO already had defence plans “to protect us, and it is working.”

“I have no doubt about Turkey's commitment to NATO, including our region's common defence,” he added. “Reviewing and updating defence plans is an ongoing process, and work continues [...] sometimes diplomatic talks are intertwined.”

Reinsalu added that NATO was now looking for decisions, and “we are interested in finding a quick solution”.

His words were later echoed by the country’s defence minister, Jüri Luik, who said “there are all sorts of disputes and discussions, but these have nothing to do with Turkey's opposition to the Baltic states and Poland”.

“All discussions within NATO end up with some sort of compromise [...] I hope we can get to that,” Luik told ERR.

Yet, according to Sakkov from Estonian Defence and Security Centre, the ambassadors from the Baltic states and Poland should demand “why Turkey has linked two unrelated questions”.

“I hope we will see the same [action] with the Turkish ambassadors in Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn [...] It isn’t friendly [...] and, frankly speaking, doesn’t improve Turkey’s standing in NATO.”

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