Stoltenberg: Russian incursions ‘not an accident’

A Russian pilot checks a missile on his Su-30 warplane at a base in Syria on Monday, before a sortie. Picture: AP
A Russian pilot checks a missile on his Su-30 warplane at a base in Syria on Monday, before a sortie. Picture: AP
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Nato’s secretary-general has rejected Moscow’s claim that its military incursion into alliance airspace over Turkey was not intentional or important, saying there were two separate incidents and “the violation lasted for a long time”.

Jens Stoltenberg yesterday said that the reported incidents were “very serious”.

Speaking in Brussels, he added: “It doesn’t look like an accident, and we’ve seen two of them over the weekend.”

On Monday, Nato ambassadors met in special session and condemned Russia’s “irresponsible behaviour”.

They also called on Russia to cease its incursions.

In a statement, Nato spokeswoman Carmen Romero said Mr Stoltenberg later confirmed that Nato generals, using the usual lines of communication to Moscow, would be contacting their Russian counterparts about the Turkish incidents.

“It’s unacceptable to violate the airspace of another country,” Mr Stoltenberg said.

He said Nato is worried that such acts by the Russians could have unforeseen consequences.

“Incidents, accidents, may create dangerous situations,” he said. “And therefore it is also important to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”

A Turkish government official confirmed yesterday that Russian ambassador Andrey Karlov was called to the ministry on Monday afternoon to hear Turkish officials lodge a “strong protest” over the second infringement.

Turkey has now reported a third incident in which an unidentified Mig-29 – which analysts say may have been Syrian – locked its radar onto Turkish jets for more than five minutes on Sunday over the Turkish-Syrian border. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that “an attack on Turkey means an attack on Nato”.

“Our positive relationship with Russia is known. But if Russia loses a friend like Turkey, with whom it has been co-operating on many issues, it will lose a lot, and it should know that,” he said.

Turkey shot down a Syrian jet last year and a helicopter only a few months ago, both in its airspace. The Syrians shot down a Turkish Phantom jet in June 2012 off their coast by mistake.

Mr Stoltenberg in advance of tomorrow’s meeting of alliance defence ministers in Brussels, where Russia’s military involvement in Syria and Nato’s response will top the agenda.

He added that Nato and Russia had military-to-military lines of communication open which had not been used, and that it would be natural to do so.

Mr Stoltenberg said he was also concerned that in Syria the Russians were not targeting Islamic State “but instead attacking the Syrian opposition and civilians”.

The latest Russian strikes also targeted positions in the north-west province of Idlib, where rebels have made gains against government forces recently.