NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg highlighted the critical importance of Turkey, saying that one can easily see it by looking at the map.
“I think that we need to understand that Turkey is an important ally. Because you can just look at the map and then you see that Turkey is extremely important,” said Stoltenberg at an online event with California-based Stanford University.
His remarks came in response to a question on whether Turkey should be expelled from NATO over the relationship between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
Stoltenberg said Turkey “has been of great importance,” citing its geographical proximity to Iraq and Syria, the progress made in fighting the Daesh terrorist group and bases and airports there.
The NATO chief said it is not the first time that allies within the alliance have had their differences, adding: “But when there are differences and disagreements, at least NATO is a platform for allies to raise these differences and disagreements.”
The situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, migration and Ankara’s decision to acquire the Russian S-400 air defense system is, according to Stoltenberg, among the concerning issues between Turkey and its NATO allies.
“I recognize that there are challenges, but I think the best thing is to address them as NATO allies inside NATO in an open way and have NATO as a platform for trying to find ways to reduce tensions and find positive steps in the right direction,” he concluded.
In April 2017, when its protracted efforts to buy an air defense system from the U.S. proved fruitless, Turkey signed a contract with Russia to acquire the S-400 system.
U.S officials have voiced opposition to its deployment, claiming it would be incompatible with NATO systems and would expose F-35 jets to possible Russian subterfuge.
Turkey, however, stressed that the S-400 would not be integrated into NATO systems and poses no threat to the alliance or its armaments.
Ties between NATO allies Turkey and the U.S. were badly strained in 2019 over Ankara’s acquisition of the advanced S-400 Russian air defense system, prompting Washington to remove Turkey from its F-35 Lightning II jet program.
The U.S. argued that the system could be used by Russia to covertly obtain classified details on the Lockheed Martin F-35 jets and is incompatible with NATO systems. Turkey, however, insists that the S-400 would not be integrated into NATO systems and would not pose a threat to the alliance.
However, the Russian-made S-300 system has been sold to 20 countries, including NATO member countries such as Bulgaria, Greece and Slovakia.
The S-300 system, completed in 1978, is designed to defend against short- and medium-range air attacks and is considered one of the world’s most powerful air defense systems.
In 1996, Greece signed a deal with Russia for the purchase of S-300s for deployment on Greek Cypriot soil.
These missiles could not be deployed in southern Cyprus as a result of Turkish pressure, but in 1998, they were deployed in Crete, whose strategic importance has been rising steadily.
Greece signed new agreements with Russia in 1999 and 2004 to purchase TOR-M1 and OSA-AKM (SA-8B) medium- and low-altitude air defense systems.
These Russian-made air defense systems are currently an integrated part of the air defense system of Greece and have also been deployed by the Greek Cypriot administration.