Ahead Of Crucial Moscow Meeting & Europe’s Indifference To Migrant Crisis, Turkey Opens Gateways to Europe

Fuad Muxtarlı Analysis 2 March 2020
Ahead Of Crucial Moscow Meeting & Europe’s Indifference To Migrant Crisis, Turkey Opens Gateways to Europe

Official Ankara is not anymore hindering Turkey-based irregular migrants from war-torn Syria and other regions to leave for Europe after the latter refused to lend an ear to Ankara’s calls for shouldering its years-long burden and ignoring to pressurise Bashar al-Assad to end bloodshed in his country.

"The number of irregular migrants leaving Turkey for Europe has reached 117,677 on Monday," Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on Twitter. 

The migrants are leaving Turkey through north-western Edirne province bordering Greece and Bulgaria. Thousands of migrants flocked to Edirne's Pazarkule border crossing to Greece after Turkish officials announced Friday they would no longer try to stop irregular migrants from reaching Europe. Turkey already hosts some 3.7m migrants from Syria alone, more than any other country in the world.

Ankara has repeatedly complained that Europe has failed to keep its promises under the 2016 EU-Turkey refugee deal to help migrants and stem further migrant waves, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday, addressing his party activists.

Erdogan-Putin meeting

Russian and Turkish Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet in Moscow on March 5, the Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. This is almost an impromptu meeting necessitated following the Syrian air strikes that killed 33 Turkish troops and wounded over 30.

Many pundits in Turkey and outside have always been cautious about possible sincere relations between Moscow and Ankara since the first agreed to Turkey’s involvement in the Syrian developments half-heartedly and out of the Kremlin impossibility to control everything on its own.

Azerbaijani pundit Elxan Sahinoglu claims the Kremlin role in the latest attack at Turkish troops that killed three dozen soldiers.

“The Kremlin that ordered Bashar al-Assad to `hit Idlib’, has not gained anything, but lost a lot. First, Russia's own Astana Process (Russia, Iran and Turkey) has come to a breaking point. Second, Russia has lost confidence of its tactical ally Turkey after the recent events. Third, it was found that the planes, tanks and rocket launchers that Russia sold to Bashar al-Assad's army and were shot down by Turkey's unmanned aerial vehicles were of low quality. Fourth, Bashar al-Assad himself has always understood that relying on the Kremlin is not a way, as Russia confronts Assad's forces with the powerful Turkish army,” the pundit said in a Facebook post.

The Russian and Turkish leaders held a phone conversation on February 28, stressing the need to take extra measures to normalize the situation in Syria

"Indeed, the president of the Republic of Turkey will arrive in Moscow for a working visit on March 5 where he is scheduled to hold talks with our president," Peskov said.

Speaking on the stance at the upcoming talks between the Russian and Turkish presidents, Peskov stressed that Moscow was committed to the Sochi agreements and called for Syria’s territorial integrity.

Russia "supports Syria’s intention to continue fight against terrorists and terror groups, including those placed on the UN Security Council’s terror groups’ list, and certainly attaches great importance to cooperating with Turkish partners."

Russia’s position at the upcoming talks will be absolutely consistent and will remain unchanged, he stressed.

"This stance was outlined at various levels by President Putin, Foreign Minister [Sergey Lavrov] and also an interdepartmental working group and an interdepartmental delegation that has been working with Turkish colleagues over the past days," Peskov said

Russia creating anti-Turkish alliance amid tensions over Idlib, pundits opined. Russia has been trying to abandon its tactical partnership with Turkey in Syria counterbalancing it by cooperating with the Gulf states. Moscow has stepped up contacts with a number of Arab countries. The reason behind this could be irreconcilable differences between Russia and Turkey in Syria’s Idlib, which is controlled by both the pro-Turkish opposition and terrorists.

Vladimir Putin sees an opportunity in escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf, but his attempts to make the most of it are clumsy and could be self-defeating. He is eager to capitalize on escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf and use it against Turkey.

Arab monarchies, except for Qatar, are Turkey’s key geopolitical rivals and any move to intensify contacts, especially amid escalating tensions over Idlib, could give rise to suspicions that Moscow is seeking a counterbalance to its ally Ankara.

Russian International Affairs Council expert Anton Mardasov believes that Moscow has the resources for rebalancing forces, but it has to change the rules of the game in Syria.

"First, it was important for the Kremlin to galvanize Turkey’s efforts in Idlib. There was no other means of forcing it to interfere rather than to raise the stakes. Second, Moscow is interested in weakening Syria’s opposition and even more wants Damascus to acknowledge the boundaries of its capabilities: Assad’s units are powerless without Russia’s direct support," the analyst said. 

This means that Russia could use this situation to get greater loyalty from President Bashar Assad, Mardasov noted.

"Third, distancing itself from Turkey over Idlib allows Russia to take into account the opinion of Arab monarchies, which seek to contain both Iran and Turkey," he pointed out.

According to military expert Yuri Netkachev, Ankara has no reason to quarrel with Moscow over Idlib.

"First, the Turkish military’s active participation in the Syrian war and their losses have already come under criticism of the country’s politicians and its society."

Besides, the Turks have a major economic interest in Russia as far as agricultural trade, tourism, energy projects and military and technical cooperation go. "All this finally encourages them to search for a compromise."

Russian political scientist Fyodor Lukyanov rules out a Russian-Turkish war, noting that the behavior of Moscow and Ankara points to this.

"A war would trigger devastating consequences for both sides and that’s why this is ruled out. We do not know for sure who had carried out the strike [on the Turkish military] but everyone carefully stresses that this was the Syrian regime and this shows that no one is interested in any Russian-Turkish escalation.

The only way to iron out challenging issues around Idlib is to hold face-to-face talks between the Russian and Turkish leaders, Izvestia writes. According to both sides, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan plan to meet in Moscow on March 5. Enes Bayrakli, an expert at the Turkish think-tank SETA, believes that the two leaders have every chance of resolving the Idlib crisis.