Erdoğan played by Putin, doing Kremlin’s bidding with refugees – FT

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is being played by his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, leaving Turkey weaker, the Financial Times said on Wednesday.

Erdoğan, who pivoted to Moscow in seek of kinship following a failed military coup in 2016, is now doing the Kremlin’s bidding by sending refugees and migrants to Europe, potentially driving a wedge between European states, the FT’s editorial board wrote.

Turkey bought Russian S-400 air defence missiles  – a step that angered its NATO allies – and invited Putin to pump natural gas through the country and build a nuclear power station. But Ankara now finds itself on the brink of a military confrontation with Moscow in Syria, where Putin is backing an advance by President Bashar Assad’s army into the province of Idlib.

“The Turkish leader thought he would regain leverage and prestige by joining Mr. Putin’s anti-liberal club,” the FT said. “But he has been played by the Kremlin, as his domestic critics pointed out.”

Erdoğan flew to Moscow on Thursday to meet Putin and is hoping to secure a ceasefire in Idlib. Thirty-six Turkish troops died in a single day last week in fighting that has raged there since January. The observation posts Turkey’s army set up in the region to police a ceasefire agreed with Russia in 2018 are now surrounded by Assad’s fighters and its air force is grounded because Moscow controls the skies.

“Turkish history is littered with defeats at the hands of Russia. This time is unlikely to be different,” the FT said. “The best Ankara can hope for is a fresh truce and retreat to a smaller buffer zone, assuming Mr. Putin is willing to help Mr. Erdoğan save face.”

While Erdoğan is now seeking Patriot missiles and other support from NATO to help beef up his position vis-à-vis Russia in Syria - he previously rejected the weapons in favour of the unused S-400s – the Western reaction has proven lukewarm at best.

“The Turkish leader likes to make Europe quake with his refugee threats, but it is the Russian leader who is calling the shots. Europeans and Americans have abdicated responsibility for the Syria catastrophe. Mr. Erdoğan’s behaviour has given them another excuse not to reconsider.”