Merkel tells Erdogan to IMMEDIATELY stop Syrian op – but why should he care what Europe says?
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has demanded Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan halt his military incursion into northern Syria. But why would the Turkish leader listen? After all, he has 3.6 million reasons not to.
Merkel demanded that Erdogan bring his military operation against Kurdish militias in northern Syria to an “immediate end” in a phone call on Sunday, a German government spokeswoman said.
Merkel’s admonishment comes as EU leaders prepare to meet in Luxembourg this week to plot a joint response to Erdogan’s ‘Operation Peace Spring’, launched on Wednesday following a withdrawal of US forces in the region. Turkish warplanes have been pounding Kurdish positions across the Syrian border, while ground forces backed by Syrian rebel groups have moved in to strike the Kurdish fighters, whom Turkey considers terrorists.
It also comes after Germany, France, Norway and the Netherlands suspended arms sales to Ankara and across the Atlantic US President Donald Trump threatened to hit the Turkish economy with “powerful sanctions.”
Erdogan has vowed to “never stop this fight, no matter what anyone says.” And why should he listen to European leaders, as they flex their soft-power muscles?
The Kurdish-held ‘buffer zone,’ which extends 30km (20 miles) deep into Syria from the Turkish border has been earmarked by Erdogan for the resettlement of some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees held in Turkey. Sending these refugees to Europe, he has warned, is the alternative.
“Hey EU, wake up. I say it again: if you try to frame our operation there as an invasion, our task is simple: we will open the gates and send 3.6 million migrants to you,” he threatened in a speech to his party on Thursday.
Though Merkel herself welcomed more than a million refugees and migrants to Germany in 2015, she later admitted that her government was unprepared to deal with the scale of the influx. Across Europe, the wave of migration that followed led to the rise of populist parties in the polls, increased social tension and integration problems, and saw governments in Italy, Hungary, and Eastern Europe reject mass immigration.
Erdogan knows that he holds a Damoclean sword over Europe’s battered establishment leaders, as do the Europeans.
French President Emmanuel Macron touched on this concern on Sunday, when he too spoke to Erdogan by telephone. “We have a common desire that this offensive ends,” Macron said alongside Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel. “This offensive risks creating an unsustainable humanitarian situation.”
European leaders already promised Erdogan billions of euros of aid and visa-free travel for Turks in 2016 in a bid to keep refugees in Turkey. Erdogan has complained that his country has received but a fraction of the €6 billion promised between 2016 and 2019, and a cohort of EU officials flew to Ankara at the beginning of this month to persuade his government to keep the floodgates closed, dangling the promise of more aid cash in front of the Turkish leader.
Despite their tough words, European leaders face a choice: allow Turkey to invade and settle its ‘buffer zone’, or deal with a refugee influx far beyond that of 2015. Erdogan, meanwhile, presented Merkel with a different choice:
“Are we allies in NATO or have you taken a terrorist organization into NATO, but we don’t know about it?” he told local channel NTV on Sunday. “Very weird approach. Are you with us or with the terrorists?”
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