Turkey drops objections to NATO defence plan for Poland and the Baltics

3 July 2020

On 30 June NATO approved a new defence plan for Poland and the Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) after the allies reached a compromise with Turkey which had been vetoing it, according to news reports.

The apparent compromise was reached after months of talks over Turkey's demand to receive more support in its fight against the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) group before it allowed the plan to come into effect. Ankara deems YPG, the backbone of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as a terrorist group linked to Kurdish separatist group, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) inside Turkey, and it has been angered by the support from some NATO allies to SDF militia in their fight against the Islamic State in northwestern Syria.

NATO leaders agreed to the plan, known as Eagle Defender, at their summit in London in December 2019 but Ankara has until now stopped it from being enacted. After the recent NATO Defence Ministers meeting an unnamed French defence official said that “Turkey is refusing to accept these plans unless we recognise the YPG as a terrorist entity”. “We say no. We need to show solidarity for eastern allies and it’s not acceptable to block these plans”, the defence official added.

NATO defence plans are classified but officials in the Baltic states have repeatedly said they were seeking stronger air defence and swifter deployment of allied forces in case of crisis.

A NATO diplomatic source in Brussels and Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the plans were approved but did not give further details. "The issue has been resolved and the plans are approved," Linkevicius told AFP. "Turkey acted constructively, strongly defending its interests as it always does, and its actions were never directed against the Baltic states. We should not dramatize it, the result is positive and we welcome it," he said. It is unclear if Turkey extracted any concessions for agreeing to the plan, which has no direct bearing on Turkey's strategy in Syria.

NATO approved its first defence plan for the Baltic states and Poland back in 2010, but the alliance has sought for it to be consistently updated, notably after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.