Erdogan's refugee ploy is morally reprehensible
The Turkish leader is trying to play the victim, but he is just as responsibile as the Assad regime, together with its Russian and Iranian backers, for provoking yet another refugee crisis.
Mar 5, 2020 — 6.44am
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan believes he has every right to feel aggrieved at the enormous burden his country has suffered as a consequence of the long-running civil war across the border in Syria.
Nine years of bitter fighting have led to an estimated 4 million Syrian refugees seeking sanctuary in southern Turkey, a challenge that would overwhelm the resources of even the most advanced European states.
Migrants stand behind a fence near the Kastanies border gate at the Greek-Turkish border. AP
Indeed, the consensus among European leaders – that the Turks were in danger of being overwhelmed by the volume of refugees fleeing across their border – was a key consideration in the European Union's decision in 2016 to grant Ankara €6 billion ($10 billion) in aid to help cover the cost of providing them with shelter and sustenance.
The other reason for Brussels's generosity was the well-founded concern that, if it did not provide the necessary assistance, then Ankara would simply open its borders, flooding Europe with millions of asylum-seekers, a tactic the Turks had happily employed before to force the EU's hand.
For, far from being the innocent party in the Syrian conflict, as Erdogan would like the world to believe, the Turkish leader shares just as much responsibility as the Assad regime, together with its Russian and Iranian backers, for provoking yet another refugee crisis by launching the latest military intervention into northern Syria.
The Turkish offensive conforms with Erdogan's long-held ambition to control large swathes of territory there, which is part of his ultimate goal of overthrowing Assad and establishing an Islamist government in Damascus.
To this end, Ankara is supporting a motley collection of Islamist militias, many of which have been linked to anti-Western terrorist organisations such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Erdogan, by dint of his attempted land grab, therefore bears a heavy responsibility for helping to fan the flames of violence.
But that has not stopped him from reverting to his old trick of holding the EU to ransom by threatening to flood Europe with a fresh wave of refugees. Only this time, instead of financial assistance, he is demanding that Europe give its backing to his military invasion. Given the near-universal contempt in which the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is held, Western leaders have little interest in defending the interests of the Syrian state, especially when it is engaged in a ferocious assault aimed at reclaiming control of Idlib province, the last remaining rebel stronghold.
Yet the fact remains that, by acting in support of rebel factions in Idlib, Ankara is deliberately violating the territorial integrity of another sovereign state, a clear breach of the UN charter and international law.
The real motivation behind Ankara's military operations is at odds with Turkey's claim that they are being undertaken primarily to prevent a further influx of refugees fleeing Idlib.
This was certainly the conclusion NATO ambassadors reached last week when they held an emergency summit to consider Erdogan's outrageous move to invoke Article Four of the alliance's founding treaty, under which a member state can seek support when it believes its territorial integrity and security is at stake.
The sheer effrontery of Erdogan claiming Turkey was the victim when his troops were busily violating Syria's territorial integrity was not lost on NATO leaders. While they expressed sympathy for Turkey's predicament, they were less enthusiastic about supporting Ankara's actions in Syria, especially as they could provoke a direct confrontation with Russia, a development other NATO members are keen to avoid at all costs.
The deepening tensions between Turkey and Russia over Idlib add a fascinating dimension to the Syrian imbroglio, not least because it was only last year that Ankara put its NATO membership in jeopardy by agreeing to buy Russia's state-of-the-art S-400 anti-aircraft missile system.
There is no evidence that the Turks used these missiles to shoot down two Syrian warplanes operating in Idlib earlier this week. But the fact that the Turkish military is now fighting a Russian-backed regime at the same time as negotiating arms deals with Moscow suggests Erdogan may have overreached himself in terms of his ambitions in Syria.
This is undoubtedly a consideration Europe needs to take on board as it ponders how to deal with the President's latest attempt to blackmail its leaders by using defenceless refugees as a bargaining chip.
Not only are Turkey's tactics, where thousands of refugees are actively being encouraged to flee to the West, morally reprehensible. They represent the desperate actions of a leader who is suffering the consequences of his ill-judged intervention in Syria.
The Telegraph London