October 14, 2019
What is Turkey's medium-term game?
Spring of Peace, the name of the Turkish military incursion into Syria, is as much of an empty promise as is the warning from France and Germany that there will be painful consequences for Turkey as a result of it. Recep Tayyip Erdogan knows that, despite all the words, the EU is hardly ready to deploy any action. Turkey could even argue that the reason it had to secure land in Syria today is because the EU's deal with Turkey back in 2016 to keep Syrian refugees out of Europe ended up straining Turkey. The situation raises disturbing questions about Turkey's long-term regional game and about Europe's moral leadership. Now that Russia and Assad are getting involved fighting with the Kurds, the race to find a common stance on Syria becomes even more complicated.
What we see is that Turkey is launching simultaneously its geopolitical agenda in the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Erdogan is violating borders as laid out by the Lausanne treaty in both areas. His confident defiance of any warning from other countries is deeply worrying. At home, he is promoting an image of strength and independence from Western allies, which seems to be welcomed by the broader public opinion according to Kathimerini. Everyone who still believed that the US' presence could prevent war or a hot incident was proven wrong. Erdogan can now press ahead and pursue his agenda.
After Donald Trump gave the green light and withdrew his troops from the north-eastern border of Syria, Turkey did the PR for its operation with Nato allies, promising to establish a safe and terrorist-free zone allowing to resettle refugees who otherwise might have dared their way towards Europe. Just to be sure that the Europeans got the message Erdogan later doubled down on this promising that, if the EU continues to call it an invasion, he will release those 3.6m refugees towards Europe.
The border violation in the eastern Mediterranean is off the shores of Cyrus. Turkey last week sent a third ship to drill for gas in waters where Cyprus has licensed a French and Italian energy company to conduct a hydrocarbons search. Over the weekend two French frigates on their way to Syria stopped there for the a joint manoeuvre with Cyprus. But to say that these were to allow Cyprus to assume its responsibilities in its sovereign waters as the French defence minister did is an exaggeration. Turkey is as unlikely to withdraw its drilling ships as it is to abandon its operation in Syria. So, what is the EU going to do? This week EU foreign ministers will meet to discuss the situation. Let's see whether anything more than just words emerges.