Thousands of migrants who tried to enter Europe from Turkey after the latter opened its borders in late February are stranded at the frontier. Ankara triggered this particular problem, but European states should nonetheless shoulder a larger burden in helping alleviate the broader displacement crisis.
Originally published in Valdai
In Syria’s Idlib province, fighting escalated between Turkish troops and Syrian rebels on one side and Russian-backed regime forces on other, leaving at least 54 Turkish troops dead; Turkey continued to ship arms to Libya and military maintained low-level operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). In Syria, as Russian-backed regime offensive to take Idlib province continued to drive displaced people toward Turkish border, Turkey reinforced its troops. Syrian regime attacks and Russian airstrikes left eighteen Turkish soldiers and three civilian contractors dead early Feb. Following killing of seven Turkish soldiers and one contractor 3 Feb, President Erdoğan gave Syrian regime forces until end of Feb to withdraw behind Turkish observation posts and threatened direct military action. Russian FM 19 Feb announced failure of Russia-Turkey talks to reach agreement over Idlib. After Turkish-backed Syrian rebels 26 Feb recaptured strategic town of Saraqib, Erdoğan same day vowed to “liberate” remaining Turkish observation posts encircled by Syrian regime. Suspected Syrian regime airstrike (possibly backed by Russia) 27 Feb killed at least 33 Turkish troops in Idlib province; Turkey said that in subsequent days it targeted hundreds of regime soldiers in retaliatory strikes. Turkish official 28 Feb announced Ankara would no longer prevent refugees in Turkey from entering Europe; Greek police 29 Feb used tear gas to disperse group of people attempting to cross Greek-Turkish border, flow of people to Greek islands also increased. As Turkey continued to ship military equipment to Libya to support Tripoli-based Govt of National Accord against Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s forces, Turkey 18 Feb criticised EU foreign ministers’ decision previous day to launch naval mission to enforce UN arms embargo on grounds that Haftar’s allies would still be able to deliver support by land and air. Erdoğan 25 Feb confirmed deaths of two Turkish soldiers in Libya. Military continued small-scale operations against PKK militants in south east and reportedly carried out airstrike targeting PKK militants in northern Iraq.
Gulf states are competing for influence in the Horn of Africa to control the Red Sea, transposing internal rivalries onto a fragile region. Horn governments should increase their bargaining power with their powerful neighbours, who should recognise the risks their policies pose to regional security.
Turkey hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, half of whom are under eighteen. Despite European aid, tensions are rising as the country strains to accommodate the influx. The answer is smarter integration policies aimed particularly at meeting the needs of vulnerable youth.
Much of north-eastern Syria has been safe during the civil war. But in the event of U.S. military withdrawal, a mad scramble for control could be unleashed. Washington and Moscow should help their respective allies in Syria reach a decentralisation deal for the area.
Rivalry persists between Russia and Turkey in their shared neighbourhood of the Black Sea and the South Caucasus. But Moscow-Ankara relations have warmed overall. Building on their wider rapprochement, the two powers can work together to tamp down flare-ups of regional conflicts.
Ahead of Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections on 24 June, opinion polls suggest a tighter race than many anticipated. The country’s Kurds could be kingmakers, prompting politicians of different stripes to court their votes and opening much-needed debate about longstanding Kurdish demands.
The quarrel between Gulf monarchies has spilled into Somalia, with the fragile state now caught between the rival interests of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The competition has already aggravated intra-Somali disputes. All sides should take a step back before these tensions mount further.
Getting out [of Idlib] altogether, allowing the refugees to come into Turkey and letting Assad take that space is not an idea that’s going to resonate with Turkish society.
[Turkey has been using Russia] to push back against policies that it doesn’t like from its Western partners.
Escalation is likely going to continue [in Syria] as long as Turkey and Russia cannot agree on a new cease-fire.
L'EI constitue toujours une menace qui pourrait métastaser si les FDS voient leur attention et leurs ressources détournées [...] au profit d'une bataille défensive contre la Turquie.
[By deciding to withdraw its troops from North East Syria] the United States just threw away the last leverage it had.
Even if efforts to create a 'buffer zone' [in Northern Syria] succeed, the underlying source of tension will remain and with it, the potential for a Turkish military response to Ankara's perceived YPG threat.
A deadly attack on Turkish forces in Syria has brought Idlib’s crisis to a dangerous crossroads. In this Q&A, Crisis Group’s Turkey, Syria and Russia experts explain what happened and what’s at stake.
Watch List Updates complement International Crisis Group’s annual Watch List, most recently published in January 2019. These early-warning publications identify major conflict situations in which prompt action, driven or supported by the European Union and its member states, would generate stronger prospects for peace. The Watch List Updates include situations identified in the annual Watch List and/or a new focus of concern.
Crisis Group's Middle East & North Africa Program Director Joost Hiltermann participated in the 2018 Körber Policy Game, designed to explore possible outcomes in the event of a crisis between Turkey and the West in Syria. While the exercise underscored many of the Syrian conflict's complexities, it also revealed that a strong desire by stakeholders to find common ground can help overcome them.