US congressman: NATO must back Turkey amid regional crisis

Published 27.04.2016 22:59

U.S. Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly said Tuesday that NATO has to support its "strategically valuable" ally Turkey in the region amid ongoing regional challenges.

During a panel at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington, Connolly said that NATO has no other choice to support Turkey and said: "Regardless of Russia's actions, NATO must rededicate itself to its organizing principles in order to fortify Turkey internally and externally."

The Turkish Air Force shot down a Russian fighter jet on Nov. 24 due to an airspace violation in the Kızıldağ region near Hatay province close to the Syrian border. The presidency confirmed that the downed Su-24 fighter jet belonged to Russia and was shot down after violating the country's airspace. The warplane went down in Syria's northwestern Turkmen town of Bayırbucak near the border en route to bombing a Syrian opposition-controlled area.

Turkey has been a NATO member since 1952 and, according to the alliance's policy, all members are bound to protect each other when faced with attack. But NATO has been criticized for leaving Turkey on its own amid Ankara's worsening relations with Russia following the downing of the jet. "Targeting a NATO ally would have consequences," Connolly said, adding that Turkey had to be able to engage Russia from a position of strength "as a democratic NATO ally."

"U.S. and NATO allies, including Turkey, have a responsibility to shape Russia's behavior in the region as best we can." He also said it would be damaging to long-term NATO interests if Russia was allowed to dictate the terms of any possible de-escalation between Turkey and itself.

The Director of the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council, John Herbst, said Russian President Vladimir Putin was astonished when Turkey shot down the Russian jet.

This was "the strongest step that anyone in the West has taken against his aggression," unlike Russia's unapproved actions while annexing Ukraine or backing Syria's Bashar Assad, according to Herbst.

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