Baerbock warns Turkey of ground offensive in Syria

Aforeign minister Annalena Bärbock has warned Turkey against escalating its attacks on Kurds in northern Syria and northern Iraq. She “urgently” appealed to her counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu “to refrain from measures that would further drive the spiral of violence – such as a possible ground offensive in northern Syria or military action in northern Iraq,” said Baerbock after the meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Bucharest.

Thomas Gutschker

Political correspondent for the European Union, NATO and the Benelux countries based in Brussels.

Ministers discussed their strategy against terrorism on Wednesday. Baerbock made it clear that international law also applies and that civilians must be protected. Cavusoglu, on the other hand, said that the Turkey expect support from their allies: “You can’t portray terrorists as victims.” After an attack in Istanbul for which the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was responsible, Ankara attacked hundreds of Kurdish targets in Syria and Iraq. The PKK and its affiliated Syrian Kurdish militia YPG deny any involvement in the attack.

Baerbock’s outspoken criticism came amid the allies’ disappointment at Turkey’s continued unwillingness to accept Sweden’s and Turkey’s accession of Finland to ratify the Alliance. Both countries have made “some progress” in implementing the agreements reached between them, Cavusoglu said in Bucharest, “but that’s not enough at the moment.”

Ankara, Stockholm and Helsinki had agreed on stronger action against terrorism, closer cooperation in extradition of suspects and the lifting of arms restrictions. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg Sweden and Finland once again confirmed that they had fulfilled the agreements. Diplomats no longer expect the Turkish government to ratify accession before the parliamentary and presidential elections in June.

“Growing convergence” in the assessment of China

The foreign ministers also exchanged views on the strategy towards China, which NATO classifies as a “systemic challenge” in its new strategic concept. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken then spoke of “growing convergence” in the assessment of the country. Participants confirmed this. The magnitude of the challenge is now clearly seen by all states, while there were divergent assessments in the past.

It was pointed out, for example, that the discussion format set up by Beijing as part of the Silk Road Initiative had failed. The Balts and Czechs have left it, meetings are no longer held. Stoltenberg warned at the meeting that one must keep a close eye on the development of China’s military capabilities. In a new report, the Pentagon points out that Beijing has doubled the number of its nuclear warheads within two years, to 400. By 2035 it could even be 1,500 warheads, the annual report on China’s military power predicts.

The foreign minister of Moldova, which is a neutral state according to its constitution, took part for the first time on the second day of the foreign ministers’ meeting. NATO had offered support to the small state whose Transnistria region is controlled by pro-Russian separatists. If there is one lesson to be learned from Ukraine, Stoltenberg said, it is that partners like Moldova, Georgia and Bosnia-Herzegovina must be helped now before they are further destabilized by Russia.

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