By Robin Emmott, Sabine Siebold and Arshad Mohammed
BRUSSELS, Dec. 1 (Reuters) – NATO allies sought on Tuesday to strengthen Turkey’s defences along its Syrian border after the United States withdrew its missile defence battery for modernisation, leaving Ankara exposed as Russia intensifies actions in the area.
Germany has also removed its Patriot battery supporting Turkish air defences on the frontier, leaving Spain as lone NATO ally with Patriots there, and raising strategy questions at a time when Ankara says it faces Russian airspace violations.
“We need to support Turkey,” Canada’s Foreign Minister Stephane Dion said on arrival in Brussels for meetings with his NATO peers, as offers of ships and aircraft began to trickle in from allies.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will also push for other NATO members to do more to protect Turkey as well as to step up actions in the U.S.-led coalition against Daesh militants in Syria, a senior State Department official said.
“We have a number of allies who are considering increasing their effort to support Turkish sovereignty and security, but also looking at operations in Syria, adding to what the French have been doing over recent weeks,” the official told reporters. “The secretary will make the case that we need even more.”
Foreign ministers are expected to formally agree on Tuesday to send more military hardware to Turkey’s borders and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he expected a decisions on a package “within weeks”.
NATO deployed its Patriot missiles along the border in January 2013, to shoot down any missiles from Syria’s conflict fired into Turkish territory. Ankara had appealed to the alliance to maintain the defences even before the flare-up of tensions with Russia over airspace violations.
Turkey shot down a Russian bomber in its airspace on Nov. 24, in the first known incident of its kind since the Cold War.
While the Turkish air force has shown it is capable of intercepting Russian jets on bombing raids in Syria that stray into Turkish airspace, diplomats say sending military support to Turkey is also designed to reassure Ankara and calm tensions.
So far, the United States has moved jets to the Turkish NATO air base Incirlik, while Britain has said it will also send jets to the region. Germany and Denmark are sending ships to the NATO fleet in the eastern Mediterranean.
Seeking to engage with Russia to defeat Daesh, NATO’s Stoltenberg said strengthening the Turkish air defence was not a knee-jerk reaction to the Nov.24 incident.
“We have decided to address the need to support Turkey before the incident last week,” he said. “The focus now should be on how we can de-escalate and how we can calm tensions.”
However, diplomats noted that Daesh does not have an air force that could confront NATO’s anti-aircraft deterrents.
Russia has said it will move a modern air defence system that can hit missiles and aircraft from up to 400 kilometres away to its Syrian base at Latakia.