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Nato is ready, declares Stoltenberg as alliance bolsters defence

Nato has finalised plans for a response force of up to 40,000, twice the current size, and new Nato headquarters offices in Hungary and Slovakia, its secretary general said.

The decisions came at a defence ministers' meeting in Brussels, Belgium, that was overshadowed by growing concerns over Russia's recent military actions in Syria.

Jens Stoltenberg announced the ministers' decisions at a news conference.

"All of this sends a clear message to all Nato citizens. Nato will defend you, Nato is on the ground, Nato is ready," Mr Stoltenberg said.

"We see an escalation of Russian military activity in Syria," Mr Stoltenberg said. "And the ministers agreed that Russia's military escalation in Syria raises serious concerns."

On Wednesday, Russian warships fired cruise missiles in the first combined air-and-ground assault with Syrian government troops since Moscow began its military campaign in the Middle Eastern country last week.

Over the weekend, Turkey, a Nato member, reported back-to-back violations of its airspace by Russian warplanes.

Mr Stoltenberg, Nato's top civilian official, called Russia's actions and unwavering support for beleaguered Syrian president Bashar al-Assad "not helpful".

In remarks to reporters earlier, Mr Stoltenberg said the alliance was ready to send help to Turkey if required.

"Nato is able and ready to defend all allies, including Turkey, against any threat," he said.

He said Nato had already increased "our capacity, our ability, our preparedness to deploy forces, including to the south, including in Turkey, if needed".

Pressed later at the news conference about what Nato intended to do to assist Turkey, which shares a border with Syria, Mr Stoltenberg indicated that the mere existence of the beefed-up response force, as well as a newly created and highly nimble brigade-sized unit able to deploy within 48 hours, may suffice.

"We don't have to deploy the Nato Response Force or the spearhead force to deliver deterrence," Mr Stoltenberg said. "The important thing is that any adversary of Nato will know that we are able to deploy."

Russia called its penetration of Turkish airspace a minor incident that was unintentional, but Nato issued a toughly worded statement on Monday insisting such violations cease.

"We are constantly assessing the situation also with the Turkish government," Mr Stoltenberg said, adding that he would be meeting later with Turkish defence minister Mehmet Vecdi Gonul.

Earlier, British defence secretary Michael Fallon accused Russia of acting chiefly in Syria not to attack Islamic State but to support Assad, thus making a serious situation "much more dangerous". Nato officials have expressed fears there could be an encounter, accidental or otherwise, between Russian planes and air forces of the US-led coalition attacking IS in Syria.

German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen said Russia must recognise that if it targets opposition groups in Syria that are fighting IS, "Russia will strengthen IS and this can be neither in the Russian interest, nor in our interest".

US defence secretary Ash Carter and his counterparts from the 27 other Nato nations had already been scheduled to meet in Brussels. The Thursday meeting, their first since June, was intended to implement changes in the alliance ordered by US president Barack Obama and other Nato leaders at the 2014 Wales summit, a process that is expected to last until the next summit in 2016 in Warsaw.

"We are facing many challenges from many different directions," Mr Stoltenberg said. "Conflict, instability and insecurity.

"We will assess what we have to do to adapt Nato to current and future challenges," he said - including cyber attacks and the blend of conventional and unconventional tactics commonly known as hybrid warfare.


From Belfast Telegraph