Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told troops at Morón Air Base in Spain today that Russia isn’t exactly paying attention to what the Pentagon says regarding Syria strikes, but he assured airmen that “reality is going to be the first check on the Russians.”
“I’ve said it again and again and again, but I’ll just say it again, that this — this is a very wrongheaded and backward approach that’s sure to backfire and is not consistent at all with what the 60-member coalition is doing. And it’s just going to fuel the Syrian civil war. And so is a serious strategic mistake on the part of the Russians,” Carter said at the outset of the Q&A.
He noted Russia’s violation of Turkish airspace — twice as of today, according to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenburg, who told reporters at a press conference that it “doesn’t look as an accident, this is a serious violation of the airspace and actually there were two violations during the weekend.”
Carter said “we’ve condemned that; NATO has condemned that.”
“This is, by the way, NATO airspace, Turkish airspace. And so it’s seriously irresponsible and unprofessional,” he added. “And in connection with unprofessional behavior, I’ll just remind you that we met at the defense — the defense working level with the Russians about professional conduct in the airspace above Syria and they’ve yet to respond to us.”
Carter said last week that he was moving forward with the plan to which he and Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu agreed before bombing started, to “send a DOD team to meet with Russian defense counterparts, at a location that we agreed upon, to ensure that we avoid any inadvertent incidents over Syrian air space.”
Today, the Defense secretary stressed, “We’re going to continue to do what we’re doing. We are on the right path. We’re going to continue to work with our allies.”
“We’ll continue to tell the Russians they have to conduct themselves professionally, but they’re making a serious strategic mistake and we will — this is, you know, going to cause us further to strengthen our posture with respect to Russia and further, you know, evidence that they’re not thinking things through very well strategically. And that is the reason why, you know, to go back to Ukraine and so forth, NATO has strengthened its posture with respect to Russia,” Carter continued.
“But in the particular matter of Syria, they’re off on the wrong track. I think they’ll continue to come under attack as a consequence of it. But we’re on the right path there and they’re on the wrong path.”
Of Russian incursions into Turkey, Carter said, “I can’t confirm that it’s deliberate, but I simply have to assume that at a certain point, it’s more than unprofessional.”
Pressed again on unresponsive Russia, the Defense secretary replied, “We are waiting for the Russians. They owe us a response. We met with them last week, as you well know. And we await a response from them, and we expect a response from them.”
“They should come in and do it right now. You know, remember this was the — these meetings were their initiative in the first place. They’re focused on professional conduct and it’s only professional that you follow through on the request they made. And they’ve not done that yet. And that may be a further sign of their strategic confusion, I don’t know.”