On Tuesday evening, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed the files of Syria and Libya, in addition to the files of illegal immigration, Turkish-European relations, and the coronavirus crisis, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. This quadripartite summit would have been held in Istanbul, attended by the four leaders, but the frightening spread of the coronavirus around the world meant it was held via video conference call.
The Syria file in general, and the Idlib file in particular, were at the top of the matters discussed. Turkey calls on the EU to assume its responsibility to protect the population of Idlib Governorate, and to end the tragedies of the Syrian people. This summit came after the ceasefire agreement reached by Turkey and Russia two weeks ago, during Erdogan’s visit to Moscow.
The Idlib file still needs more international efforts to force the Syrian regime forces to withdraw behind Turkish observation points and depart from the de-escalation zone. These efforts must also work to establish the recent agreement that some parties seek to thwart. On Sunday, Turkish and Russian forces began conducting joint patrols along the M4 highways, but they faced sit-ins against the Russian patrols.
The Syrians are not blamed at all for staging sit-ins against the Russian forces, because Russia is directly responsible for many of the massacres committed by the regime forces with its support. It also participated, with its planes in the displacement of tens of thousands from their homes and villages. However, other parties are troubled by the ceasefire and the failure of Turkey and Russia to clash in Idlib.
These parties may push to incite the residents of the province, and take actions aimed at hampering the efforts made by Ankara to protect the people of Idlib, and to improve the humanitarian situation in the de-escalation zone. Of course, if the European countries stand with Turkey on the Idlib file, it would strengthen Ankara in the face of Russia on the one hand, and the international and regional powers that drive extremist groups on the other.
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The file of refugees and illegal immigration is one of the files that the leaders discussed at the Quartet summit. Turkey had opened its borders to those wishing to immigrate to European countries via Greece, in light of the EU’s failure to support Ankara in the Idlib file, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Syrians who head towards the Turkish border out of fear of attacks by the regime and Russian air forces. What Turkey requires from the EU is to fulfill its promises and participate in protecting the Idlib residents so that they do not have to be displaced, in addition to contributing to ensuring the return of those displaced to their homes and villages in the province safely and securely.
The Libyan file was also discussed at the summit. The four leaders had participated in the summit that was held about two months ago in the German capital Berlin, in order to strengthen the ceasefire in Libya. Despite the agreement reached by the parties participating in that summit, the rebel forces led by retired General Khalifa Haftar did not adhere to the ceasefire, but rather continued to bomb the Libyan capital Tripoli, and the Mitiga International Airport, while the countries supporting Haftar continued to send weapons to him.
After the summit, no statement was issued about the results of the talks, neither regarding the Libyan file or the others. Erdogan tweeted: “ We found opportunity to extensively evaluate many topics ranging from fight against coronavirus and the humanitarian situation in [Syria’s] Idlib, to solutions to Syria crisis, matter of asylum seekers and Turkey-EU relations at the summit.” He added, “In this difficult process that we pass through at the regional and global level, we will operate diplomacy and cooperation mechanisms more actively, and we will resolutely continue our efforts to resolve problems as soon as possible.”
The summit brought the Turkish-European relations back to the table, because the current conditions require the EU to cooperate and coordinate with Turkey on a number of issues and problems threatening the old continent. European countries cannot ignore Turkey’s role and weight, at a time when they are suffering from the catastrophic spread of the coronavirus, in addition to the possibility of hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing to Europe.
The coronavirus could deliver a stronger blow to the EU than it did with Britain’s exit from the EU. The virus is spreading like wildfire in some European countries, and the number of deaths is increasing dramatically, amid the collapse of its health system. In this chaos in Europe, Turkey imposes itself as a strong player in a number of files, a partner that can contribute to tackling problems, and an equal to major European countries.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 18 March 2020
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.