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17th Apr 2021

EU powerless in new Syrian mayhem

  • EU's chief diplomat Federica Mogherini says member states will discuss measures against Turkey on Monday after its invasion in Syria (Photo: eeas.europa.eu)

France and Germany urged Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to stop the Turkish offensive in Syria, on Sunday (13 October)

According to the German chancellery a phone call between Angela Merkel and Erdogan was established at the initiative of the latter.

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The EU foreign affairs ministers are now meeting on Monday (14 October) morning in order to agree on a common European reaction.

The EU's chief diplomat, Federica Mogherini, said at the start of the meeting that "obviously member states will discuss how far they are ready to go on some measures that are on the table when it comes to the Turkish military activities in Syria but also the drillings in Cyprus," adding the council would be hosting the UN envoy for Syria.

France's foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, went more into detail declaring that "France wants several things. First, a condemnation of the Turkish offensive. We will demand that they stop this offensive, a demand to stop arms exports to Turkey, but especially that this meeting becomes an opportunity so that the United States of America organises a meeting with the international coalition against Daesh."

Several other EU countries would support an EU arms embargo on Turkey, while Germany and France have already halted military shipments to the country.

This will increase already existing tensions between the EU and Turkey, an important Nato ally and an EU membership hopeful.

In the meantime, France is trying to secure the safety of its military and civilian personnel in northern Syria. France was a major ally in the US lead coalition against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

Now that the US announced its withdrawal from Syria, the security situation has become more and more unclear for the French troops.

However, Europe seems to have hardly any influence on the fast-evolving events in Syria and its neighbourhood.

New Kurdish-Assad coalition

While the Turkish army has been invading the Kurdish area in northern Syria, with the support of Turkish-backed Syrian rebels, a new alliance saw the light on Sunday.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Syrian Kurdish Forces (YPG) and Western backed Syrian rebel forces, have asked the support of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to protect them against Turkey.

Assad agreed to this alliance and already sent his troops to northern Syria, where they would be taking Manbij and Kobane, two cities near the Turkish border.

While the alliance seems unlikely at first sight, it doesn't come as a complete surprise - except for the fact that it came into place fairly quickly.

The Kurdish Syrian forces were part of the Syrian opposition coalition, but never targeted Assad as such. The main goal of the Kurds was not regime change but the creation of an autonomous Kurdish area in the northern part of Syria.

This relative independence of the Kurdish troops is one of the reasons why the US made a coalition with them in order to fight ISIS in northern and eastern Syria.

The territory that was occupied by the US coalition after the territorial defeat of Isis, comprised the entire North-East and East of Syria, Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor included.

However, Turkey said it has no interest in this large territory and that it only wants to create a safe-zone of 30km, starting from its own border.

New regional instability

The new coalition between the Syrian Kurds and Assad against the Turkish invasion, does complicate the situation in the region further.

As Assad is supported by Russia a clash between the Turkish and Syrian forces will at some point lead to a stand-off between Turkey and Russia.

On the other hand, Iran, a long-time ally of Syrian president Assad, held unannounced military drills in the north-western part of the country, at the border with Turkey.

In the meantime, hundreds of Isis supporters have reportedly fled the pop-up prisons under Kurdish custody. So far, it is unclear how many Isis fighters are between these people.

According to Hassan Hassan, director of non-state actors program at the Center for Global Policy, there is little doubt that we will see a resurgence of Isis and other extremist groups like al Qaeda in Syria soon.

He predicts not only a regrouping of Isis but also a new radicalisation of Syrian themselves, partly out of fear for retaliation of Isis, partly because they feel betrayed by Western forces.

Hassan also regrets the fact that European countries refused or delayed to take in those Isis fighters with European nationalities, as this would have partly decreased the coming threat.

On top of all this, a new humanitarian crisis is in the making.

Le Drian added to his earlier statement that "the Turkish offensive risks reviving Daesh", saying "it is particularly severe because our allies of the Syrian Democratic Forces are threatened… and because this offensive will create a real humanitarian crisis, already 130,000 refugees have been displaced."

Turkish attack on Syria might revive Isis

The EU has told Turkey to stop its attack on Syria, but Trump seems to be less worried about the 12,000 Isis fighters walking free, saying "they will be escaping to Europe".

EU countries to halt arms sales to Turkey

EU states have agreed to stop arms sales to Turkey over its invasion of Syria, marking a nadir in relations with their Nato ally. In response, Ankara mocked the decision as a "joke".

Up to 750 European children trapped in north-east Syria

Between 700 and 750 children from different EU member states are trapped in camps in north-east Syria with parents who are suspected Islamic State fighters. Many are under the age of six, victims of war and conflict.

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