UPDATES WITH REMARKS BY TURKISH, AZERBAIJANI AND GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTERS
By Diyar Guldogan
KARS, Türkiye (AA) – Türkiye attaches great importance to the military exercises as the world passes through some political and military challenges, the nation's defense minister said on Thursday.
"We are witnessing various important political and military developments both in the regional arena and in the world in the period we are going through.
"We all see together that the armed forces should be more effective and more deterrent than ever before. For this, we need to see that military exercises are of vital importance," Hulusi Akar said at the "distinguished observer day" of the Winter Exercise-2023 in the eastern province of Kars.
Starting on Jan. 18, the drill has 16 participants from friendly and allied countries, including Azerbaijan, Georgia, Germany, and the UK. It officially ends on Friday.
"Our aim is not war. We continue our efforts to protect the rights and interests of our country and our nation and to ensure their security," Akar added.
The defense chief said Türkiye has conducted 985 military exercises since 2018 and it is planning to conduct 206 exercises in 2023.
Akar attended the observer day along with his Azerbaijani counterpart Zakir Hasanov and Georgian counterpart Juansher Burchuladze.
A total of 2,113 personnel took part in the exercise, and over 650 vehicles and 860 weapons were used.
The aim of the exercise was to ensure cooperation and coordination in the execution of combined and joint operations, test the combat capabilities of the units, including firing in deep snow and severe cold, and improve the synchronization of firing and maneuvering by simulating the battlefield in all its dimensions.
Speaking at the event, Hasanov said this exercise, carried out in snowy and cold weather conditions, plays an "exceptional role" in increasing the possibilities and capabilities of the Azerbaijani army.
"The exercise also makes a great contribution to increasing the level of mutual reconciliation and war preparation," he added.
Burchuladze, for his part, said: "We, friendly and brotherly countries, are conducting exercises not to fight someone, but to protect our own countries."
- Tensions with Greece
Regarding tensions with Athens, Akar said despite Türkiye's efforts, Greece continues with its provocative rhetoric in the region.
In response to Türkiye's call for peace and dialogue, Greece's pursuit of "artificial alliances and futile armament efforts" are against the spirit of NATO alliance and neighborliness, he said.
"It is out of the question for us to threaten Greece. We say what needs to be done as part of international law and good neighborly relations. Türkiye is not a threat to anyone, Türkiye is a strong, reliable and effective ally.
"We have never allowed any fait accompli in Cyprus, in the Aegean, or in the Eastern Mediterranean, and we will not do so in the future," he reiterated.
About Türkiye's talks with the US regarding the F-16 fighter jets, Akar said: "We also see that there are various initiatives against it. We believe that modernization and procurement efforts will result in positively by leaving all these aside and proceeding with reason, logic and objective criteria."
Türkiye made a request to Washington in 2021 for 40 F-16 jets and modernization kits. The State Department informally notified Congress of the potential sale.
Ankara maintains that the jets would strengthen not only Türkiye but NATO.
- Türkiye, Russia, Syria talks
Regarding last year's defense ministers meeting between Türkiye, Russia and Syria, Akar said Ankara's only target is the terrorism threatening country's borders and national security.
On Dec. 28, the Turkish, Russian and Syrian defense ministers met in Moscow to discuss counterterrorism efforts in Syria and agreed to continue tripartite meetings to ensure stability in Syria and the wider region.
At that meeting, Akar said: "We have brought to the agenda that we are making efforts to ensure that our Syrian brothers and sisters in Türkiye return to their lands and homes in a safe, voluntary and respectful manner, depending on the provision of welfare, security and peace in the coming days."
It is out of question for Türkiye to do something to put Syrians in a difficult situation, he added.
"In the upcoming days, our technical delegations will hold a meeting. We are doing our best to get a result," the minister said.
Although no date or location has yet been announced, the foreign ministers of the Türkiye, Russia and Syria are expected to meet, which would mark another high level of talks since the Syrian civil war began in early 2011.
- NATO bids of Finland, Sweden
Turning to Finland and Sweden's NATO membership bids, Akar reiterated that as long as the terrorists are supported, the commitments are not fulfilled and the export restrictions continue, "it is not possible for Türkiye to say yes to this in any way."
He added: "Unfortunately, concrete steps have not been taken so far, especially by Sweden, on these issues."
Sweden and Finland formally applied to join NATO last May, abandoning decades of military non-alignment, a decision spurred by Russia's war on Ukraine, which started on Feb. 24 last year.
But Türkiye, a NATO member for more than 70 years, voiced objections, accusing the two countries of tolerating and even supporting terror groups, including the PKK and the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), the group behind the 2016 coup attempt in Türkiye.
Last June, Türkiye and the two Nordic countries signed a memorandum at a NATO summit in Madrid to address Ankara's legitimate security concerns, paving the way for their eventual membership in the alliance.
Sweden and Finland agreed not to provide support to the YPG/PYD/PKK and FETO, to prevent all activities of the terror groups, extradite terror suspects, introduce new legislation to punish terror crimes, and not to implement national arms embargoes among the three countries.