Ankara has reportedly been blackmailing NATO, refusing to sign the proposed defense plan for the Baltics and Poland unless the alliance officially recognizes Kurdish-led militia in northern Syria as a “terrorist group.”
Agreeing on a new NATO defense plan for the eastern European countries has escalated from a formality into a true diplomatic battle, Reuters reported Tuesday, citing four senior sources within the bloc.
“[The Turks) are taking eastern Europeans hostage, blocking approval of this military planning until they get concessions,” one of the sources said.
Turkey’s envoy had been instructed not to sign off the plan – which has to be unanimously approved by all the NATO members – until the alliance recognizes Syria’s People’s Protection Units (YPG) as terrorists.
The YPG is the core group within the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia, which has recently became the target of a new Turkish incursion. While the group has been a long-standing US ally and fought against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS), Ankara regards it as an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – regarded both by the US and Turkey as a terrorist organization.
Poland and the three Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – have solicited increased funding and military presence from NATO, arguing without evidence that they face an imminent threat of aggression from Russia.
The deadlock over the defense plan is threatening to spoil the planned festivities at NATO’s 70th anniversary summit in London. However, Ankara appears adamant that it will only green-light the plan if it receives concessions from the bloc.
“Everyone is criticizing them [the Turks], but if they give in, it will be at the cost of non-interference in their Syria strategy,” one of the sources said.
Turkey’s reported intransigence, if confirmed, only adds to NATO’s current woes, as US President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized alliance members for failing to live up to their budgetary commitments. Only seven of NATO’s 29 members are currently spending at least two percent of their GDP on the military – and while Poland and the Baltics are among them, Turkey is not.
However, Turkey has the second-largest military within the alliance, and occupies the strategic position on its eastern flank, in reach of both Russia and the Middle East. For all that, Ankara has had a rocky relationship with the US recently, due to Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems as well as its military operation in northern Syria.
Turkey might have taken Trump’s withdrawal of US troops as tacit approval for its ‘Operation Peace Spring,’ but Washington has maintained that the Kurdish-led Syrian militias are still its “allies” and repeatedly urged Ankara to show restraint in its assault against the SDF.