President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan carried out two very important official visits within a week. He went to Moscow, accompanied by a plethora of ministers, to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and conduct bilateral talks. The extreme urgency of the situation has been resolved to some extent. A cease-fire between the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and militia loyal to the Bashar Assad regime has been implemented. More importantly, the Russian Air Force has ceased its intervention. The details of the agreement have yet to be finalized, but an important peaceful step has been taken, showing that both parties, Russia and Turkey, are unwilling to escalate the fighting.
In the meantime, Turkey declared, in a surprising move, that it would implement an open door policy. This created a significant migratory movement toward the Greek and Bulgarian borders. Around 100,000 refugees who have tried to cross into the EU were harshly pushed back and assaulted by Greek security forces. This has created a major crisis within the EU. They have called for Turkey to stop encouraging migrants from crossing the borders. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis declared the 2016 agreement between Turkey and the EU was dead and buried.
Turkey retaliated through live broadcasts on independent TV channels by showing Greece's inhumane treatment of the refugees trying to reach its islands in the Aegean Sea. At Greece's land borders, tear gas and plastic bullets were fired at migrants. In some places, vigilante groups have victimized the refugees who managed to cross the no man’s land between the two borders.
The Turkish government, in an attempt to damper an already volatile situation, ordered the Coast Guard to block refugees trying to cross the Aegean. The problem is that once the migratory movement started, half of the TSK plus the combination of the Greek and Turkish fleets would be necessary to somehow render the frontier impracticable for illegal crossings. Hundreds of kilometers of Greek island coastline is within swimming distance of Turkey, creating the ideal geography for illegal crossings. Given the present condition of Turkish-Greek relations, cooperation between the two countries remains unrealistic. Therefore, despite the move on the part of the Turkish government, tension persists.
Erdoğan went to Brussels for an emergency summit with the EU. He was welcomed by Turks living in the city and addressed them in an impromptu open-air gathering. He met with the secretary-general of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, and a joint press conference was organized. Nothing new emerged. The official position of NATO is to verbally support Turkey; whereas the Turkish president very much wanted tangible change.
Problems emerged from the EU-Turkey summit. A joint press conference was scheduled, but it did not take place. Ergoğan refused to give any interviews after the meeting and went directly back to Turkey. The Turkish representation in Brussels did not want to interpret the situation and talked about a “fruitful and open-minded meeting.” The European Commission's president, Ursula von der Leyen, gave a very similar explanation about “existing differences, debated in an 'open-minded and friendly atmosphere.'" It means, in diplomatic terms, that the parties did not come to a common understanding on any of the issues on the table. I have stated in many previous articles that EU-Turkey relations were already at all-time lows, so perhaps expecting a successful meeting and a common declaration was optimistic. It would not be wrong to say, however, that the EU has shown its “official” stance, giving total support to Greece and politely reprimanding Turkey.
This situation allows us to make some analyses: First, there are countries, or groups of countries, that do not pay any price for the international relations errors they commit. The U.S. is the best example, from Vietnam to the total destruction of Iraq and Afghanistan. The European Union is in a similar position. Regardless of errors, institutional cheating or the plundering of EU funds, each state remains a member state in an untouchable position.
This is the way the EU functions, with all its collateral damage. This is not fair, and probably unsustainable. Nonmember countries must understand that for similar misconduct, member states will not be reprimanded, but nonmembers will be declared rogue. This is what is happening with Greece, Bulgaria, Greek Cyprus and Romania. They are member states and at the end of the day, the EU will show institutional solidarity. In a similar situation, Turkey will see its relations severed or suspended.
The second issue is that it is a bad idea for a state to stop using diplomacy and start turning its warnings into reality. This has been done with Turkey's open borders policy, which was a powerful move, morally and strategically. Now tens of thousands of refugees are stuck at the border. Turkey is seen, by an overwhelming majority of the foreign media, as the culprit.
The third important factor, which has become very visible recently, is that a large majority of Syrian refugees do not want to leave Turkey for European countries. This is likely to fuel xenophobic attitudes that are emerging within society, through both social media and the dangerous rhetoric of some politicians.
Lastly, human trafficking is a very grotesque business and represents the worst part of society. Turkey runs the risk of becoming a destination for illegal migration to Europe. While annoying for the EU, it is dangerous for Turkey. These developments show that we need to coordinate our policies with the EU. The recent visits of Erdoğan show that it will not be easy.