LONDON (Reuters) – Turkey will oppose a NATO plan to defend Baltic countries unless the alliance backs it in recognizing a Kurdish militia as a terrorist group, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday ahead of an alliance summit in London.
The threat underlined the mounting challenges to a bloc hailed by backers as the most successful military alliance in history just as its leaders, including U.S. President Donald Trump, gather in London to celebrate its 70th anniversary.
Turkey’s defiance will only add to doubts over the political future of NATO, already described by French President Emmanuel Macron as “brain dead” and undermined by Trump’s questioning of the entire premise of his superpower defending the West.
Erdogan, who has strained alliance ties with a move to buy Russian air defense systems, repeated his threat to block a defense plan for the Baltics and Poland unless NATO steps up support for its fight in northeastern Syria against the Kurdish YPG militia.
“With pleasure, we can come together and discuss these issues there as well,” Erdogan said of the Baltics plan ahead of his departure from Ankara for the NATO summit.
“But if our friends at NATO do not recognize as terrorist organizations those we consider terrorist organizations… we will stand against any step that will be taken there.”
Erdogan added he had spoken to Polish President Andrzej Duda on the phone and had agreed to meet him and leaders of Baltic countries in London. Turkey, France, Germany and Britain are also expected to hold separate meetings around the summit.
In an interview with Reuters, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper warned Ankara that “not everybody sees the threats that they see”, and he urged it, in the name of alliance unity, to stop blocking the Baltics plan.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reaffirmed the mutual defense clause at the heart of the NATO pact, insisting it would respond to any attack on Poland or Baltic countries.
“Through the presence of NATO forces in Poland and in the Baltic countries, we are sending Russia a very strong signal: if there is an attack on Poland or the Baltic countries, the whole alliance will respond,” Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister, said in interviews with several European newspapers.