The Turkish President sides with NATO but flirts with Moscow and uses Syrian refugees and the spectre of Jihadism to blackmail Brussels. Libya, too, is going it alone.
Diplomatic relations between the European Union and Turkey are still sailing in troubles waters. One of the main points of disagreement concerns the refugees sojourning on Turkish soil. Their numbers have increased after the growth of the armed conflict around the city of Idlib, in the north-west of Syria. It is a serious battle between the government army, supported by Russia and Iran, and the armed groups made up mostly of Jihadists who are militarily supported by Turkey.
Recently, Turkey has recommenced blackmailing the EU, playing the refugee card. Turkish President had already done this in 2016, when he encouraged hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Syria to cross the Turkish frontier and enter Europe. This causes a deep political crisis in many EU countries that was exploited by groups of the xenophobic right who achieved widespread electoral success. On that occasion, Turkey succeeded in obtaining from Brussels responsibility for managing the problem of refugees within its borders. Erdogan received six billion Euro to close the border but the Turkish President insists he received only part of that sum. He is again on the attack, threatening to send the displaced people in the province of Idlib into Europe: for now they include 3.6 million Syrians, 170,000 Afghans and 142,000 Iraqis, according to Turkish authorities.
Ankara demands that the EU provide the finance to manage the refugees and military support to the government of Syria to retake Idlib. However, both the EU and NATO are reluctant to collaborate with the Turkish government, especially because it has moved closer to Russia.
The Turks have bought the Russian S – 400 air-defence and anti-missile system and signed an accord with Moscow for a Turk stream gas pipeline. Now they are seeking support from NATO. The European finance ministers do not trust Erdogan but are forced to negotiate. They know that the unpredictable “sultan” is capable of flooding the cities with Jihadists fleeing from Idlib…
There are also differences between Turkey and the EU regarding the Libyan crisis. The EU disapproves of the deployment of Turkish military troops in Tripoli in support of the government of Fayez al-Sarraj. And France, an important member of the EU, supports General Khalifa Haftar, who controls a large part of Libyan territory and the oil wells. Europa has strongly criticised the accord between Ankara and Tripoli on the question of the maritime borders in the eastern Mediterranean, a zone rich in hydrocarbons. Cyprus, Greece and Israel also oppose it.
Nevertheless, the Turkish government is succeeding in keeping them all on a lead. NATO wishes to avoid a break with Turkey fearing it may definitively move into the Russian and Chinese camp. If the EU wishes to resolve the question, it will have to review its foreign policy regarding the Middle East, hitherto based on colonial thinking, and open channels of dialogue with all the countries of the region – Syria first of all –, based upon respect for their independence and sovereignty. Only by doing so can they outflank the colonial ambitions of Erdogan and put an end to his blackmail.
Mostafa El Ayoubi