Poland hopes to sway Turkish threat to NATO’s Eastern defence plans

Polish President Andrzej Duda attends the Nato Engages conference ahead to the NATO Summit in London, Britain, 03 December 2019. [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET]

Polish President Andrzej Duda said on Tuesday (3 December) he expects a solution during the two-day NATO gathering in London after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to reject military plans for Poland and the Baltic States.

Turkey declared it would oppose NATO’s defence plan for the Baltic States if NATO allies did not recognise the Kurdish YPG militia, against which Ankara is fighting in northern Syria, as terrorists.

Commenting on the Turkish blockade statements at a townhall-style event before the NATO summit titled ‘NATO Engages: Defence and Deterrence for a New Era’, Duda labelled the “establishment of NATO presence in the Eastern flank” as the “most important” NATO accomplishment of the last few years.

“We would like NATO to be strong and united. We would like the Alliance to be consistent. NATO’s best achievement over the past few years has been to establish a presence on the eastern flank,” the Polish president told the audience in London.

This would especially be true for Poland and the Baltic countries after the Russian invasions of Georgia and Ukraine, Duda added.

The Polish president further confirmed he had spoken to Erdorgan by phone on Monday and had agreed to meet with him and leaders of Baltic countries in London to discuss the issue, adding that he “is hopeful NATO members will find a solution” on the matter.

When asked about the prospect of appeasement, Eastern European officials, however, were cautious, with one of them saying that to some “it feels a bit like the region has once again become a pawn in big power politics”.

A Turkish security source told Reuters on Monday that Turkey was not “blackmailing” NATO with its rejection of the plans and that it has full veto rights within the alliance.

Earlier on Tuesday, Pentagon chief Mark Esper urged that “Turkey’s fears should not block Poland’s defence plan.”

Turkey, France, Germany and the UK are expected to hold a separate meeting on the sidelines of the NATO summit to discuss Turkish plans to establish a safe zone in northeast Syria, which has until now been met with criticism from Ankara’s European allies.

At the same event, NATO chief Stoltenberg said it was not right to question the Western alliance’s security guarantee but that he was working to solve a dispute with Turkey over allied plans to defend the Baltics.

Asked if the issue could be resolved by the end of the London summit, he said: “I will not promise that, but what I can say is that we are working on that. But it is not like NATO doesn’t have a plan to defend the Baltic countries.”

“Clearly, Turkey is acting in a very transactional way. Turkey’s behavior is can be seen as acting contrary to the Alliance principle of solidarity, some would even describe this behavior as holding these plans hostage,” said Michał Baranowski, head of the German Marshall Fund’s Warsaw office.

Asked whether he believes that a compromise can be reached, Baranowski said he is confident, especially given that Poland has been traditionally supportive of Turkey.

Turkey’s blockade announcement provoked a strong reaction in Eastern member states, which are already anxious about some of their fellow NATO allies’ commitment to their defence after Macron’s “brain death” comments.

Speaking to EURACTIV earlier last month after a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels in November, Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid emphasised that NATO should be ready to defend Estonia should the country face risks from its neighbour Russia.

Kaljulaid said that “there is no secrecy about the fact that Russia does not respect its own signatures on the international acts” and stressed that although “NATO has a 100% success rate in defending its members” this fact would depend “on being ready and having your deterrence at the level where it would really deter.”

Responding to Macron’s NATO “brain death” statement, and the question of whether his current anti-enlargement stance on European level was problematic, Duda said it was up to the French president to make “concrete proposals” for NATO reform.

“I am asking French President Emmanuel Macron not to talk about the “death of NATO’s brain”, but to propose what exactly we can do to improve our cooperation in NATO,” Duda said at the event.

In what was seen as an attempt at damage control, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in an interview published on Tuesday, that the NATO alliance will respond to any attack on Poland or the Baltic countries in the framework of Article 5, the military pacts’ mutual defence pledge.

“Through the presence of NATO forces in Poland and in the Baltic countries, we are sending Russia a very strong signal: if there is an attack on Poland or the Baltic countries, the whole alliance will respond,” he said before the NATO summit.

(Edited by Benjamin Fox)

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