update: Though Erdogan has been used to getting his way utilizing his well-known bullying tactics, it appears Europe is not going to fold this time.
After yesterday European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker declared of Turkey’s push to militarily carve out a ‘safe zone’ in northern Syria that “if the Turkish plan involves the creation of a so-called safe zone, don’t expect the European Union to pay for any of it,” some European leaders have pushed back against his reiterated threat to “open the doors” for 3.6 million refugees currently in Turkey to seek shelter in Europe if external powers don’t support his operation.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said European Union must adopt a common position against Erdogan’s threats. Conte told RAI television, as cited in Bloomberg:
“We cannot accept that there be blackmail involving the welcome given by Turkey” to refugees with European funding, and the offensive in Syria.
No doubt Erdogan won’t take kindly to the Italian leader charging him with an attempt the “blackmail” but Conte firmly voiced what many EU leaders are likely thinking.
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As fighting ramps up in northeastern Syria following Turkey’s armed incursion into territory held by the Kurds, President Trump made clear during a press conference Wednesday night that, while Washington has threatened to punish Turkey for attacking the Kurds, President Trump doesn’t feel any deeper loyalty to the one-time “tip of the spear” in the fight against ISIS.
But President Erdogan wants Europe to understand that if it pursues sanctions or other punitive measures against Turkey – or even if European leaders complain too loudly – he won’t hesitate to release millions of Syrian refugees and allow them to start making their way to Europe, which is still struggling with the ramifications of the last wave of Syrian refugees.
According to BBG, Erdogan said he would “open the doors” for 3.6 million refugees currently in Turkey to seek shelter in Europe, should his country face criticism.
Erdogan’s threat comes as Turkish troops begin their advance into northeastern Syria (Erdogan has asked European leaders not to call this an ‘invasion’). So far, he has faced intense criticism from European nations and nearby Arab states.
The Turkish lira, and Turkish assets like stocks and foreign-currency bonds, have slumped in the wake of the invasion, with the Turkish currency trading near its weakest level since August.
Ankara has said the operation, which was given the green light by the US over the weekend, is intended to force back Kurdish militants along the border area while targeting ISIS militants. But since ISIS has been stripped of all its territory in the region, many who oppose the Turkish incursion believe the claims of going after ISIS and preventing the creation of a “terror corridor” are merely a ruse.
The Turkish Armed Forces, together with the Syrian National Army, just launched #OperationPeaceSpring against PKK/YPG and Daesh terrorists in northern Syria. Our mission is to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area.
— Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RTErdogan) October 9, 2019
Turkish F-16 warplanes and artillery units have struck at least 181 targets so far. At least 19 Kurdish militants have been killed since the Turkish assault began, while 38 have been wounded. Meanwhile, a group of American senators from both parties have promised to try and punish Ankara over the incursion.