Brussels (Brussels Morning) A surprisingly toothless joint statement released by NATO member states on Wednesday, condemning Belarus in lukewarm terms for forcing a commercial plane to land in order to arrest a dissident journalist, was the outcome of Turkish demands that its allies water down a much more damning initial draft version of the intended statement.
The statement, which required approval by consensus of all 30 member states, in the end comprised two paragraphs condemning Minsk’s actions, stripped of any reference to sanctions or consequences.
Earlier, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s public remarks commenting on the rerouting of the Ryanair flight had been much more pointed, when he termed the incident “a state hijacking” that he described as “dangerous”.
Two unnamed diplomats familiar with the matter told Reuters that the text of the joint statement was supposed to have been much tougher. Poland and the Baltic countries, the sources said, were calling for punitive steps to be included in the wording. However, Turkey insisted that any mention of sanctions against Belarus be stricken from the final text.
Ties with Moscow
The two diplomats also said Turkey demanded that the statement omit any reference to a call for the release of political prisoners in Belarus, and that all threats to suspend NATO cooperation with Minsk be removed from the text as well.
“The statement by the North Atlantic Council on Belarus was agreed by all 30 Allies by consensus,” a NATO official said, when asked to comment on the Turkish role in the process. “We do not go into the details of discussions in the North Atlantic Council, which are confidential”, the official added.
Even though Turkey offered no explanation for its demands, the diplomats conjectured that Ankara was likely seeking to preserve its ties with Moscow, Belarus’s closest ally. Turkey, they speculated, might also be seeking to maintain economic relations with Belarus by preserving Turkish Airlines’ daily flights to Minsk. Another possible motive could be fear of how Moscow would react to any direct reprisals against its close ally. Turkey’s tourism industry, for example, counts on Russian tourists to help salvage this year’s tourist season..