NATO head sees 'troubling escalation' of Russian activity in Syria
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday there had been a "troubling escalation" in Russian military activity in Syria, after Moscow dramatically expanded its air campaign.
"In Syria, we have seen a troubling escalation of Russian military activities. We will assess the latest developments and their implications for the security of the alliance," Stoltenberg said as he went into a NATO defence ministers meeting dominated by the Syrian crisis.
"This is particularly relevant in view of the recent violations of NATO's airspace by Russian aircraft," he added.
Russia launched its air campaign against what it terms "terrorist" targets in Syria last week but in the process, it has infringed on key NATO ally Turkey's airspace, prompting strong protests from the US-led alliance and Ankara.
On Wednesday, Moscow upped the ante dramatically with the launch of an unprecedented series of cruise missile attacks to cover a Syrian army ground offensive against rebels seeking the ouster of long-term Russian ally President Bashar al-Assad.
NATO has stationed anti-missile Patriot batteries in Turkey to protect it from any spillover of the Syrian conflict but they are due to be removed later this year.
Asked if NATO would consider extending their mission in light of the Russian missile attacks, Stoltenberg said: "NATO is able and ready to defend all of the allies, including Turkey."
He cited measures taken to boost NATO's readiness, driven initially by Russia's intervention in support of pro-Moscow Ukraine rebels, and the creation of a very rapid response force which should be operational from next year.
This "spearhead" force, of about 13,000 troops, could be deployed both to the east and to the south if need be, he said.
"We are facing many challenges from many different directions. Conflict, instability and insecurity," he said.
"We are implementing the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War."
© 2015 AFP