Monday 23 April 2018

Nato attacks Russia for 'irresponsible' behaviour in flying planes over Turkey

Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives to meet with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker
Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives to meet with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker

Louisa Loveluck in London

Nato condemned the "extreme danger" posed by Russian incursions into Turkish airspace and called on Moscow yesterday to halt attacks on Syrian civilians and opposition groups.

Russia waded into Syria's four-year war last week, sending ripples of anger through rebel ranks and stoking tensions with the West and its Gulf allies.

Nato said that Russian intervention had reached a "more dangerous level" over the weekend, with two separate violations of Turkish airspace reported, after Russia sent Su-30 and Su-24 aircraft into the Hatay region along the border with Syria.

"The aircraft in question entered Turkish airspace despite Turkish authorities' clear, timely and repeated warnings," Nato said in a statement, noting the "extreme danger of such irresponsible behaviour".

Although Russia has justified its intervention, to domestic approval, by the need to target militants of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), the air strikes have focused on protecting Bashar al-Assad's north-western heartland from rebel offensives.

Russia admitted to the first incursion into Turkish airspace on Saturday, but called it a "mistake" and assured Ankara it would not happen again, Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish prime minister, said yesterday.

But a senior US official told Reuters that the White House did not consider the incursion an accident, adding that officials were in urgent talks with Nato allies about their response.

Deep concern

Citing "deep concern" over attacks in the provinces of Hama, Homs and Idlib, Nato called on Russia to "immediately cease its attacks on the Syrian opposition and civilians, to focus its efforts on fighting Isil, and to promote a solution to the conflict through a political transition".

Nato stationed Patriot missiles on Turkey's southern border in 2013 to prevent spillover from the conflict which has left 250,000 people dead and caused an exodus.

Yesterday, 41 Syrian rebel factions said that Moscow's air campaign had made a political solution to the conflict impossible. In a statement posted online, groups including Jaish al-Islam, a Saudi-backed militia, and Ahrar al-Sham, one of the uprising's most influential groups, said that Russia's "brutal occupation has cut the road to any political solution".

Russia's intervention has galvanised the rebels, encouraging closer coordination in the provinces of Homs and Damascus and drawing increased support from external backers.

The air strikes have killed dozens of civilians and damaged at least five medical facilities, according to the Syrian American Medical Society.

Yesterday, a senior Kremlin defence official foreshadowed deeper involvement still, telling Russian news agencies that military veterans who had fought in eastern Ukraine were likely to start showing up as "volunteer" ground forces in Syria.

In comments evoking recent clandestine efforts, Admiral Vladmir Komoyedov said that such volunteers "cannot be stopped". (©Daily Telegraph, London)

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