Turkey's Syria offensive: is Europe powerless?

Turkey's military offensive in Syria will also be a key topic at the EU summit that begins this Thursday. The foreign ministers were unable to agree on an EU-wide weapons embargo or other sanctions last week. Some commentators complain that the EU is being too lax, while others say the criticism of Ankara is unjustified.

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Jornal de Notícias (PT) /

EU's thanks for dirty work is silence

Erdoğan is barely being criticised by the international community, Marianna Mortágua of the left-wing party alliance Bloco de Esquerda comments angrily in Jornal de Notícias:

“The EU is once more ignoring an unjustified invasion and another attack on human rights while at the same time protecting Turkey. In the end it is this very same Erdoğan who declared his willingness to do Europe's dirty work by setting up concentration camps for Syrian and other refugees. A genuine buffer zone for the EU that enables it to continue making proclamations about peace and human rights. War likes to wallow in hypocrisy.”

Ria Nowosti (RU) /

Europeans should keep their mouths shut

Ria Novosti argues that the EU should refrain from voicing criticism:

“Turkey's motives and actions in northern Syria can be assessed in different ways. You can call them cynical and hard. And they should be treated with caution. After all, Ankara isn't planning on restoring the sovereignty of the legal Syrian government over this area in the near future (which is the goal of Damascus and Moscow). But Erdoğan comes across as a lot more honest than the Janus-faced Europe, which is accusing him for acts which the Europeans considered perfectly admissible on their part in various regions of the world. Such double standards once again clearly demonstrate the moral weakness of today's Europe.”

Artı Gerçek (TR) /

It's all about consolidating power

Erdoğan's sole motivation is to create the best conditions for his autocratic rule, Artı Gerçek comments:

“This operation is about more than an autocrat's personal greed. Above all he wants to establish a permanent presidency. There is a limit to what elections, legal amendments and decrees can achieve in this respect. And he's not satisfied with that because he still can't govern as he pleases. But now that he's ruling in exceptional circumstances he'll gamble higher and higher and try to create even more exceptional circumstances.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

EU still has trumps in its hand

The EU must make full use of its economic clout, writes the Süddeutsche Zeitung:

“US President Donald Trump promised Erdoğan that the Turkish economy would be destroyed. There is no need for such tweets bordering on insanity from Brussels to remind Erdoğan of his economic vulnerability. Turkey's dependence on trade with the EU is glaringly obvious. And it is precisely because he knows this that Erdoğan is threatening to terminate the refugee deal with the EU and open the gates for millions of migrants to head to Europe. If the Europeans give in to this blackmail it would be tantamount to geopolitical surrender.”

Ethnos (GR) /

Putin is benefiting the most

Assad's main ally Putin is without doubt once again the big winner here, writes political scientist Spyros Plakoudas in Ethnos:

“Russia's 'shares' have risen sharply on the Middle Eastern 'geopolitical stock market'. Moscow is portrayed as the honest 'mediator' of all warring factions, not betraying its allies in distress. Now Russia must of course prevent a crisis between Turkey and Syria over Rojava. But for the time being Putin has been the most successful chess player since 2015 in the Syrian war.”

De Standaard (BE) /

Diplomatic arrogance with devastating consequences

Europe is closing its eyes to the problem, De Standaard also complains:

“The refugee problem remains hopeless. Which is also why Turkish President Erdoğan launched his attack in the first place. He's reacting to the ongoing grumbling of his countrymen to the presence of millions of Syrian refugees. The European Union prefers to keep the problem well beyond its borders. ... In its view the refugees should remain in Turkey, just like the Western IS fighters should be tried elsewhere rather than at home. At no point has it asked whether these countries are at all up to the challenges they face. Europe now sounds not only diplomatically arrogant, it also has no influence whatsoever on events as they unfold.”

Kristeligt Dagblad (DK) /

The EU must take action

The EU can no longer count on Trump to put everything in order, Kristeligt Dagblad admonishes:

“If Europe really wants to take its security and existence seriously, something must happen right now. That goes for relations with Turkey. Here the question is how long we want to continue to rely on Trump-style horse-trading with Erdoğan. The Turkish president has no qualms about using this against us. That also goes for Syria and other sensitive conflicts in the region. In reality, however, we should become far more active here, on the one hand because these are humanitarian disasters and on the other because naturally it's in our own interest to avoid the huge influx of refugees that comes with war and unrest.”

Neatkarīgā (LV) /

Stop relying on the US

Latvia should change its foreign policy priorities, Neatkarīgā writes:

“A small country located far from the US shouldn't rely on eternal friendship with the United States. ... Latvia can expect more understanding and shared values from the EU. One of the most important shared values is mutual solidarity. Recent events have demonstrated that the EU member states show solidarity not only in good times but also in bad times. The 2008 economic crisis and European solidarity are a good example of this.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

Terrorist threat self-imposed

Since the Turkish offensive began a number of IS fighters imprisoned by the Kurds have reportedly managed to escape. Europe will now pay the price for its negligent policy, Islam expert Renzo Guolo laments in La Repubblica:

“More than 2,000 of the detainees are Europeans. It is feared that some of them could return to Europe, which will pose considerable security risks. ... This result could have been avoided if instead of leaving the jihadists in the hands of the Kurds the European states had brought them back home to put them on trial and make them pay for their crimes in their countries of origin. ... But instead, the idea of abandoning them to their fate prevailed. They were left to third parties who put them in improvised, overcrowded prisons where internal control was virtually impossible.”

Karar (TR) /

A risky game

Turkey is biting off more than it can chew with this mission, Karar fears:

“Turkey wants to limit the influence of the Kurds in the large region that extends across the east and south of Syria and set up a kind of custodianship system there. This entails the risk of alienating not just Trump but also the US Congress, Britain and the EU, being expelled from Nato and pushed even further towards Russia and Iran, and ending up in a war with Syria that Turkey could ultimately lose. ... This is a major political gamble. Quite apart from the question of whether the deployment is right or wrong, there must be a serious discussion about whether Turkey has the necessary means at its disposal to continue this game.”

Al Ghad (JO) /

Erdoğan facing a Saddam Hussein scenario

Jordanian columnist Maher Abou Tair describes the West's criticism of the Turkish offensive as dishonest in the daily Al-Ghad:

“The Turkish military initiative has triggered a wave of criticism across the globe despite the negative stance vis-à-vis the Syrian regime. All of a sudden the international community seems to be worried about the unity of Syria's territory and about protecting the civilian population. But these are just phoney slogans. The real objective is to get rid of Erdoğan. Turkey is facing the same situation as Saddam Hussein in 1990 when the Iraqi rulers marched into Kuwait. Turkey is at a crossroads.”

Politis (CY) /

Invasion and occupation with the world's blessing

Turkish Cypriot columnist Şener Levent describes Erdoğan's strategy in Politis:

“He'll commit genocide! Erdoğan announced his plan to the UN, looking everyone square in the eye. The invasion and occupation have now been legalised by the world. ... And he listed the things he would do after the invasion. ... He'll build houses, he said. Schools. Mosques. And look how shameless he is! He's even asking Europe for money to do it. If Europe opposes the operation, Turkey will open its gates and send three million Syrian refugees to Europe! Threats! Blackmail! And it's all been legalised now.”

Zeit Online (DE) /

Europe to blame for its powerlessness

The Europeans are once again limiting themselves to mere admonishments and grousing, Zeit Online laments:

“Point the fingers! Out with the speech bubbles! But under the attitude of moral superiority lies nothing but helplessness and powerlessness. The Europeans had the opportunity to play a more important role in northern Syria. Months ago, the Americans asked for European aid on the ground. ... Europe failed to act in its own well-understood interests out of weakness. Every upheaval in the Middle East has a direct impact on Europe, so the Europeans should have a say. But they don't get that for free, they have to fight for it.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

The US exposing itself as an unreliable partner

By leaving the US's Kurdish allies at Turkey's mercy Trump is gambling with his country's credibility, Jutarnji list observes:

“Decisions are being taken in the White House without any clear criteria, according to President Donald Trump's mood, and without any regard for the potential impact on the US's interests. ... Even his most loyal supporters, among them Fox News, are criticising his decision. Because Trump has overstepped a dangerous limit: he has shown that America is an unreliable partner. Although the Republicans want their president in the White House and support his conservative views, there's one thing they're not willing to compromise on: the US's influence as a major world power and its reputation as a loyal ally of its international partners.”

Ilta-Sanomat (FI) /

Making good on this promise is dangerous

The US is abandoning its allies in Syria, criticises Ilta-Sanomat:

“President Donald Trump is causing the greatest confusion in this cynical power game, because the Syrian Kurds were allies of the US in the fight against the IS. Trump's decision to bring the US forces home and clear the way for Turkey is a stab in the back of a trustworthy ally. Who can make it clear to Trump that at this particular moment keeping his election promise will do him more harm than good?”