EU, NATO should press Russia to stop attacks in Syria

EU, NATO should press Russia to stop attacks in Syria

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s meeting with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on Feb. 8 produced a joint understanding in further coordinating and dealing with growing refugee problem under a 10-article statement. Among others, two topics are quite significant: the one on the need of a launch of a massive diplomatic campaign against Russia and calling on NATO to carry out patrolling and monitoring missions in the Aegean Sea to stop illegal migrant trafficking. 

It’s not surprising that two leaders have extensively discussed the situation in Syria as Geneva III talks had to be suspended due to growing Russian and Syrian military operations in northern Syria. 

Russian aggression in Syria accompanied with Assad’s army against the opposition forces as well as civilians residing around Aleppo had three major consequences: It caused the suspension of Geneva III talks, sparked another refugee inflow into Turkey and interrupted Turkish-American efforts to clear the Mare-Jarablus line of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) elements. 

This was why senior Turkish officials have spoken up about the silence of the NATO allies in the face of Russian military mobility in northern Syria. Prime Minister Davutoğlu was very clear in his direct criticism against the United States when he said he observed an increase in the Russian assaults in Syria after every meeting between Russian and American foreign ministers, Sergei Lavrov and John Kerry. 

It’s not clear how Davutoğlu and Merkel’s understanding on Russia will produce concrete actions and therefore results. The only thing that would motivate Merkel to jump into action could be the increase in the number of Syrians leaving the country as a result of this military campaign, something EU countries really do not want to hear about. 

Merkel should have understood very well that the refugee inflow will only end if the regime and its supporters suspend their military operations. That could pave the way for Germany to play its leverage on Russia to this end. 

NATO’s involvement in the migration issue is also very important, showing the inability of 28 EU countries to deal with this acute problem through their own means. Defense ministers will discuss to what extent the alliance can get involved in efforts to stop illegal migrant trafficking at a meeting in Brussels on Feb. 11. 

Apart from these measures, we will see more cooperation between Turkey and some EU institutions like Frontex as well as between Turkey and Greece in stopping the massive refugee exodus into Europe through the Aegean Sea. Turkey and EU will review the implementation of the Nov. 29 action plan at a summit that will take place in Brussels on Feb. 18, the results of which will also draw the future lines of Ankara-Brussels relationship. 

There is no doubt that the refugee issue has already been placed at the core of this multifaceted relationship between Turkey and the EU. As all the eggs –re-energizing accession process, visa liberalization, implementation of the readmission- have been put into the same basket, a failure in handling the refugee issue would bring about unwanted consequences in other dimensions of this relationship. 

So, in order to sort this refugee problem and avoid the derailment of the Turkey-EU process, prominent EU and NATO countries should better pressure Russia into ending its military activities in northern Syria. Russia’s apparent intention is to complicate the Syrian equation as well as to make life difficult for Turkey and other Western countries and necessary diplomatic action should be taken to nix their involvement.