Turkey at War with Syria and Europe

President Erdogan is playing a dangerous game.

Reuters (“Turkey destroys scores of Syrian army targets: defense minister“):

Turkey said on Sunday it had destroyed air defense systems, more than 100 tanks and downed two planes belonging to the Syrian army as part of an operation it launched after an air strike killed dozens of its soldiers last week.

Tensions in northwest Syria have escalated sharply as fighting between Turkey-backed rebels and Russian-backed Syrian government forces risks bringing the two regional powers into direct confrontation.

Diplomatic efforts by Ankara and Moscow to defuse tensions have so far fallen short of achieving a ceasefire in the Idlib region of northwest Syria, the country’s last major rebel stronghold after nine years of civil war.

Ankara has ramped up its attacks, including drone strikes, against the Syrian army since Thursday, when 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike by Damascus. Another soldier was killed on Friday, bringing February’s death toll to 55.

Syria’s army warned on Sunday it would take down any planes or drones breaching the air space over the northwest, which has been controlled for years by its ally Moscow.

“We have neither the intention nor the notion to face Russia. Our only intention there is for the (Syrian) regime to end the massacre and thereby prevent, stop radicalization and migration,” Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said.

This is a bizarre escalation of the conflict. I don’t see how it ends well for Turkey.

Meanwhile, Erdogan is unleashing a torrent of refugees across the borders of its ostensible allies.

NYT (“Erdogan Says, ‘We Opened the Doors,’ and Clashes Erupt as Migrants Head for Europe“):

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey declared on Saturday that he had opened his country’s borders for migrants to cross into Europe, saying that Turkey could no longer handle the numbers fleeing the war in Syria.

“What did we do yesterday?” he said in a televised speech in Istanbul. “We opened the doors.” His comments were his first to acknowledge what he had long threatened to do, push some of the millions of Syrian refugees and other migrants in Turkey toward Europe in order to cajole the European Union to heed Turkey’s demands.

He accused European leaders of not keeping their promises to help Turkey bear the load of millions of Syrian refugees.

Mr. Erdogan has also called for European support for his military operations against a Russian and Syrian offensive in northern Syria that has displaced at least a million more Syrians toward Turkey’s border. He has also sought more support for the displaced and the 3.6 million Syrian refugees already in Turkey.

The migrants at the border had heeded Mr. Erdogan’s call and rushed to Turkey’s borders with Europe, some on Friday taking free rides on buses organized by Turkish officials. But once at the Europe’s doorstep, they were met with a violent crackdown.

The notion that NATO was somehow going to make war with Russia and Syria over Turkish concerns is, frankly, bizarre.

Greece, for one, certainly can’t handle more refugees.

BBC (“Greece blocks 10,000 migrants at Turkey border“):

Greece says it has stopped nearly 10,000 migrants crossing over the land border from Turkey.

Separately, Greek police say at least 500 people on seven boats have reached the Greek islands of Lesbos, Samos and Chios, where camps for migrants are already severely overcrowded.

Turkey has vowed to open its doors for migrants to travel to the EU.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says it cannot deal with the amount of people fleeing Syria’s civil war.

His decision came after at least 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in air strikes in Idlib province in northern Syria this week.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has called a meeting for his country’s national security council later on Sunday.

The EU’s border protection agency Frontex said it was on “high alert” on Europe’s borders with Turkey.

Obviously, Turkey can’t be expected to take on this entire influx. But this move is beyond aggressive.

I haven’t the foggiest how this plays out but don’t see how it ends well.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    Like Tiny, Erdogan can’t see beyond the immediate objective. The US draw down in Syria opened the opportunity to crush the Kurds before a de facto Kurdish state could develop that would include parts of Syria and Iraq. Of course he never considered that he’d then own that part of the Syrian conflict and that Syria and Russia would continue to press for control of that area.

    I’m not sure who Erdogan’s allies are in the ME, but he is surrounded by Syrian allies.

    No, it won’t end well.

  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    Yep. Authoritarian thugs like Erdogan, Putin and Trump can’t see the big picture because they are malignant narcissists who see nothing but themselves.

  3. Kathy says:

    The narcissistic, authoritarian thug’s lament must be “Oh, why do my actions have consequences?”

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    There should be some acknowledgement of the Greeks’ response to the large number of refugees that have appeared on their shores and this is as good a place as any. The Greeks have not only been humane in their treatment of these refugees, they’ve been heroic.

    However, as Ben Franklin wisecracked, guests are like fish and the Greeks are now becoming exhausted. There needs to be a European response to this crisis and not just a Greek or Hungarian one and that means the Germans needs to be taking a much more active role. I recognize that Germans taking financial responsibility to things going on in other, poorer European countries is anathema to the Germans but that’s what needs to happen, especially since these refugees aren’t trying to reach Greece, Hungary, or Italy but Germany.

  5. gVOR08 says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    Germans taking financial responsibility to things going on in other, poorer European countries is anathema to the Germans but that’s what needs to happen

    This is also what needed to happen after the 2008 financial crisis. I don’t recall it happening.

  6. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    I recognize that Germans taking financial responsibility to things going on in other, poorer European countries is anathema to the Germans but that’s what needs to happen

    Germany spearheaded the proposals for resettling refugees among the EU as a whole. The proposal was rejected mainly by the Eastern Europeans (Visegrád-group) and the UK.

    You may also remember that Germany waived the Dublin protocol to take in more refugees than it was required to. The American right is still howling about that (Merkels open border policy).

    And while Germany’s austerity politics are entirely misguided, the Eurozone was in the end saved by commitments and guarantees that were underwritten to a large degree by Germany and France (~50% of the total).