What the EU could do about the refugee situation remains unclear in a situation where we do not talk to Bashar al-Assad or Russia. The only one left is Erdogan, while what he has to say isn't exactly flexible, MEP Yana Toom writes.
"That of which the Bolsheviks warned has happened," as the saying goes. A new refugee crisis is on the horizon. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has decided to allow refugees he was holding back to move to Europe. He was not containing them for free, and while the initial sum agreed was €3 billion, the EU has contributed a total of €6 billion to Turkey over the past four years.
Erdogan is going back on the deal. And what can we do about it? Sue Turkey? Folk wisdom is right in stating that you should not put all of your eggs in a single basket. Also, that you reap what you sow. And we're reaping precisely what we sowed today.
Turkey is releasing refugees, reacting to the situation in Syria's Idlib province. It is obviously an asymmetrical response – the Turks are not fighting the EU, they're fighting the Syrian army.
More to the point, as-Assad's army, supported by Russia, is fighting the local "opposition" that is supported by Turkey. I put the word in quotes because the forces fighting against the Syrian government in Idlib are a colorful bunch: Salafi-jihadists from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (various groups, including less than peaceful Chechens, Turkmens and Uighurs), the Syrian National Liberation Front, former ISIS fighters and whoever else.
Seen as al-Assad's opposition are the National Liberation Front that the Turks are supporting. The problem is that all of those groups used to fight among themselves before signing a peace agreement to face al-Assad together. Some (including U.S.) assessments suggest Idlib is the largest jihadist center in the world today that could easily turn into a structure like ISIS.
Al-Assad has the support of Russia, while his enemies are aided by Turkey. The latter is a NATO country but has a complicated relationship with other NATO members. Greece, for example, that believes Turkey occupied a part of Cyprus.
Greece even vetoed an endorsement for Turkey in NATO. Erdogan is asking Trump to station Patriot missiles on the Turkish-Syrian border to have something with which to beat Assad. It seems Greece will veto these missiles (relying on the words of Marko Mihkelson). Erdogan is putting pressure on Greece and the EU, threatening to release refugee hordes unless Turkey is supported in its fight for the creation of a new core ISIS.
Brilliant, isn't it? Whereas Europe's choices are rather limited. We can either help Turkey crush al-Assad in Idlib and ensure ourselves a headache for many years in the new ISIS that we will have to start combating. Or not, and three and a half million refugees will invade Greece, Bulgaria, the Balkans etc.
What if the refugees will bring with them the coronavirus? A real possibility if we remind ourselves it is spreading rapidly in the region, especially Iran. The Idlib Governorate had over half a million displaced people by early February, which is fertile ground indeed for an epidemic.
Should al-Assad win, which seems likely now, Turkey will see new refugees. One does not have to be Nostradamus to know that they will not stay there. While Erdogan will come to an understanding with Putin as he has in the past.
It is a curious detail that Erdogan initially proposed a four-way meeting in Istanbul, between Turkey, Russia, France and Germany. Putin refused to talk to Erdogan through mediators who, furthermore, do not approve of the Kremlin's Syrian actions, as well as to travel to Istanbul – the key players will meet in Moscow instead. What about Donald Trump? Looks like he is only shrugging his shoulders: a terrible crisis, our condolences…
It remains unclear what the EU could do about the situation. We have no levers with which to affect the situation in Idlib. We do not talk to Bashar al-Assad. Neither do we talk to Russia. Erdogan is the only one left, while what he has to tell us can be summed up in a sentence. If you will not support us, give us weapons, I will open the border and flood you with refugees.
Politico wrote on Tuesday. "Perhaps the time has come for someone to call Vladimir Putin? Had I his number – as rumors seem to suggest – I would gladly surrender it. By the way, Estonia is on the UN Security Council, sitting only a few paces from the Russian representative. The key to avoiding another refugee crisis could be in the pocket of whoever dares take the first step on that road.
Editor: Marcus Turovski