Jassim Mohamad, Researcher on terror and intelligence in Bonn
In 2016, the EU and Turkey reached a deal in which Turkey received billions of Euros in exchange for preventing a wave of refugees and asylum seekers from crossing into Europe. However, when the Syrian regime began its offensive on Idlib — which is home to many Ankara-backed jihadist fighters — Turkey was angry and decided to open its border to allow refugees to stream into Europe as a way to get the EU to put pressure on Syria and its Russian backer to halt the offensive. Ankara openly encouraged refugees to flee and even published routes in Arabic for them to take which resulted in some 900,000 refugees crossing into Europe in January and February of this year.
Not only did Turkey renege on the deal, it sought to use refugees as pawns to blackmail the EU. This is the same union that Turkey still aspires to join — or so it says. Austria’s chancellor Sebastian Kurz slammed Turkey for trying to “blackmail” the EU by opening its borders. In fact, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan openly said that the gates were opened in order to get Europe involved in the Syrian conflict, hoping it would pressure the Syrian regime to halt its offensive on Idlib.
European Council chief Charles Michel and the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell warned that Erdogan’s decision deeply undermined trust and called on the Turkish president to return to his obligations under the 2016 agreement.
The agreement, actually, was never implemented as originally foreseen. It was meant to be a package that included EU visa liberalization, the modernization of the EU-Turkey customs union, the opening of new accession chapters and, crucially, a 1:1 resettlement scheme. EU cites Turkey’s reversal of democratic reforms as a reason why it has not delivered on visa liberalization or accession negotiations.
Turkey’s military incursion into Syria was in clear conflict with the interests of the majority of NATO countries who held the view that such intervention strengthened ISIS and facilitated the escape of its fighters. In addition, Ankara’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system drove another wedge between Turkey and NATO countries.
The deterioration of Turkey’s relations with Europe and the West more generally have been seen in a number of other areas.
Erdogan has also threatened Europe over the unfolding tensions in Libya where the Russia-backed Libyan National Army led by General Khalifa Haftar is battling the Turkey-backed Government of National Accord led by Fayez Al-Sarraj. “Europe will face new problems and threats if the Al-Sarraj government is toppled,” Erdogan said. “The European Union must show the world that it is an important player in the international arena.”
Turkey has announced the dispatch of troops and advisors to Libya, in clear violation of the Security Council’s decision to ban the arming of warring parties. Field reports have also revealed that hundreds of pro-Turkey fighters in Syria have been sent to Libya to support militias fighting for Al-Sarraj’s government.
It has been reported that some of these fighters arriving in Libya soon desert and board boats to Europe. Turkey’s transfer of these fighters to Libya can be said to accomplish several goals. It removes some potentially troublesome radicals from within and around Turkey; they are used to combat the LNA and its backers, who are Ankara’s most serious rivals; and it allows the Turkish government to strengthen its foothold in North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean, providing another pressure point against Europe to secure its economic interests.
The primary such economic interest is the oil and gas off the shores of Cyprus. These resources are in a contested area and both the European Union and the United States have asked Turkey to desist from its drilling operations in the area. Turkey has paid them no heed, nor did the issuance of arrest warrants by Cyprus get Turkey to back off. This dispute is ongoing.
European Eye on Radicalization aims to publish a diversity of perspectives and as such does not endorse the opinions expressed by contributors. The views expressed in this article represent the author alone.