Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened Europe that if procedures for Turkey’s accession to the European Union stop, he will unleash 3 million refugees to Europe.
The threat is addressed to Greece, first and foremost. In the past two years, almost 1 million refugees and migrants from Turkey have crossed the Aegean, landing on Greek islands. Until February, they were channeled to northern European countries through Former Republic of Yugoslavia. Then the FYROM borders closed, leaving dozens of thousands stranded on Greek soil.
After March 20, when Turkey and EU signed a deal that would curb the migrant flow, the numbers dwindled dramatically. It became obvious that people smugglers can operate based on the approval of Turkish authorities.
July 15 was a turning point for Turkey. The failed coup helped Erdogan emerge more powerful and vengeful. He purged the army, administration, academia, press and other institutions from his opponents, real and imaginary. Then he embarked on a fantasy campaign to revive the Ottoman Empire and make himself the almighty Sultan.
Methodically, he started questioning international law. He disputed the Lausanne Treaty that delineates Turkey’s borders with Greece and surrounding countries, he spoke of the “borders of his heart,” he claimed that some Aegean islands belong to Turkey because they are “a shout away.” Meanwhile, Turkish war planes and boats keep “visiting” Greek airspace and territorial waters quite often.
The Greek government has replied to all the provocations with lukewarm comments about international law, treaties that are not to be challenged and an overall apathy not suiting the size, and reality, of the threat.
The recent Donald Trump election in the U.S. and his stance on the Greece-Turkey relations remains a mystery. Right after the elections, Vice President elect Michael Pence has made comments that favor Turkey. Trump is in favor of Bashar al-Assad remaining as Syria’s President, something that Erdogan doesn’t like. What the Turkish president likes a lot, though, is that Trump will not follow Barack Obama’s policy on Kurds, who was in favor of an autonomous Kurdish state. The new U.S. administration might give Turkey the role of policeman in the area. And it is certain that Erdogan is eyeing some territories in Iraq and Syria that used to belong to the Ottoman Empire.
If indeed Turkey assumes a more important role in the region, it is likely that it will ask for something in return. Even territories that belong to Greece.
At the moment this is a nightmarish scenario. Erdogan is gradually becoming more outspoken of his expansionist intents. No matter how much the Greek foreign ministry tries to downplay his inflammatory rhetoric — claiming that he is only addressing the fanatics at home — Turkey’s recent arrogance on the Cyprus peace talks is one of the many indications that Erdogan’s ambitions are threatening the peace in an already volatile region.
For the Turkish president it will be easy to turn a blind eye and let people smugglers ferry a few hundred thousand migrants and refugees. This way he will take revenge on the country that deprived him of the “borders of his heart” and at the same time punish Europe for not respecting him enough, as he claims.