Erdogan is bullying Europe because Trump gave him the green light

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

US President Donald J. Trump (R) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) shake hands after their joint press conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 13 November 2019. [Erik S. Lesser/EPA/EFE]

The show which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is playing now with the migrant crisis is, to a great extent, the result of the green light he got from Trump last October when the US troops withdrew from Syria.

Iveta Cherneva writes about security, politics, human rights and sustainability. She recently published the book “Trump, European security and Turkey” (2020).

Writing from Bulgaria — the EU’s external border with Turkey – I remember that when the White House delivered its statement of 6 October that the US military forces would be moving out of Turkey’s way, many of my compatriots realised that nothing good will come out of this.

Erdoğan entered Syria like a king and started running the show. Several days ago, he even proclaimed to his party that the Syrian province Idlib was Turkish territory now. “We are the hosts now”, he said.

The 33 killed Turkish soldiers in Syria were a big blow – but it was a small price to pay for the gains Erdoğan has made.

Erdoğan’s ambitions to continue expecting help from NATO in Syria are arrogant, as is his country’s veto on the Alliance’s defence plan for the Baltic States and Poland in NATO, unless the Syrian Kurdish YPG is recognised as a terrorist organisation. These are just blackmailing tactics.

Turkey will never get direct military help by NATO in Syria. And forget about Article 5 in the Turkey-Syria case. In the end, it is Turkey that entered Syria, not the other way around. This is why Article 4 and consultations are the most that Turkey can hope for, and they already used that option last week.

A Turkish government spokesman announced that 100,000 refugees are now headed towards the EU. When all other leverage fails for Erdoğan, it is the refugees’ turn. This is the show we are watching. I won’t even mention the refugee deal that Turkey struck with the EU – that is pretty irrelevant right now, from where I am sitting.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov will try to serve as a mediator between the EU and Turkey – he did so on Monday and will continue over the following days.

My thought is for those that did not pay attention to Turkey’s incursion into the Kurdish parts of Syria. In the end, it was only about the Kurds, right? In the EU, who cares about the Kurds?

When we look at the new migrant crisis unfolding at our doorstep, we should not forget about Erdoğan’s motivation and the fact that Trump gave him the green light. By the way, the US President promised in a phone call more support to Erdoğan.

The chiefs of the three EU institutions are meeting the Greek leadership on Tuesday in Greece but that will be no more than a symbolic meeting. The real breakdown of dialogue is not between EU institutions and Greece. It is elsewhere.

Erdoğan’s plans, however, are to see many more dramatic scenes at the EU border. Unavoidably, there will be human suffering. Turkey’s propaganda will make the most of it.

The last refugee episode tells Europe that the show will end when Erdoğan says so. Today, the Turkish leader said that “millions” of refugees will enter Europe. It doesn’t take millions, however. Several thousand refugees and several fatalities will be more than enough to accomplish what Erdoğan intends – humiliate the EU.

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