Question: Ambassador, how do you gauge the deal between Turkey and EU? What are the risks? Can Turkey be a reliable partner? Will it help to reduce migrant flows to EU member states?
Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov: Cooperation on migration issues between the EU and Turkey is natural and, I would dare to say, inevitable against the background of the current refugees’ and migrants’ crisis. It is up to both countries to decide how to interact, manage migratory flows and assess each other’s reliability as partners. Of course, we wish the EU to bring this crisis under control as soon as possible. In any case we share the same Continent and are interested to see an EU that conducts predictable and manageable migration policy, minimizing possible associated humanitarian and security risks.
What we and many others, including the United Nations and the Council of Europe, expect is that all measures taken by the EU and Turkey be fully in line with international law and standards. And attempts to use migrants and refugees as political bargaining chips to impose one’s own approach to the Syrian crisis on others or to wring out any concessions in bilateral relations are completely inadmissible.
Sometimes we hear from different European capitals that the migratory flows into the EU are so massive that it is somehow excusable to depart from well-established practices and norms of migrants’ and asylum-seekers’ reception and protection. I strongly disagree, and this has nothing of schadenfreude. Russia has recent experience of accommodating almost two million Ukrainians fleeing civil war and persecution by nationalists and neo-Nazis. 420,000 applied for temporary protection, more than 6,000 for asylum. 166,000 decided to become Russian citizens. Nearly 200,000 take part in the State programme of voluntary resettlement. We handled this on our own and heard no rebukes from UN specialized agencies or from the Council of Europe.
Having said that, I need to underline that the only real and viable solution to the crisis is stabilization in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan. It is a huge task that consists to a large extent of correcting political errors committed by well-known Western countries. But alternatives do not exist.
Question: EU and Turkey are in favour of safety zones in Syria (Turkish/Syrian border): How does Russia assess this plan?
Vladimir Chizhov: We have taken note of the Statement by the EU Heads of State and Government following the EU-Turkey summit on 7 March. Specifically, it tasks the EU to “work with Turkey in any joint endeavour to improve humanitarian conditions inside Syria which would allow for the local population and refugees to live in areas which will be more safe”.
The reference to the possible establishment by foreign powers of “safe areas” inside Syria, a sovereign state, is of sincere concern. This wording distinctly echoes persistent Turkish ideas of creating “safe zones” or even “no-fly zones” in the North of the country. Whether these zones would be employed primarily for humanitarian relief is doubtful. It is much more likely that they would be turned into permanent staging grounds for Islamist militants, where they would be rearmed, resupplied and sent back into battle, thus ensuring that the bloodbath in Syria is further prolonged. The Western intervention in Libya in 2011 provides a valid reference point on how “no-fly zones” can be used for the deliberate purpose of military escalation and, ultimately, regime change.
For these reasons I would urge the EU to refrain from accommodating Turkish plans for “safe areas”, especially as a trade-off for Ankara’s assistance in halting the flows of refugees into the EU. Helping Turkey to carve out enclaves within Syria in direct breach of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity will hardly advance EU’s claim of being an independent and responsible actor in the Middle East. Moreover, this would be going against the spirit of the Geneva peace talks, which are aimed explicitly at restoring Syria as a single viable state, devoid of either “more safe” or “less safe” areas.
Question: What do you think about the NATO mission in the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece to collect information on smugglers’ movement? Is it a threat/security risk/provocation?
Vladimir Chizhov: It remains to be seen whether the NATO mission in the Aegean Sea is really effective and yields proper results. We take note that the proclaimed aim of the mission is to support the Turkish and Greek authorities and coast guards, as well as Frontex, in their efforts to tackle human trafficking and criminal networks. It would be much more beneficial for all sides, and first of all for the Alliance itself if it is engaged in assisting international efforts to stem illegal migration and in dealing with illegal trafficking networks «on the ground» rather than in searching for some phantom menaces, demons and vicious invaders just to justify its own existence and expansion.
But there are still doubts about NATO’s ability to stem illegal migration. The Aegean operation represents an unusual and wholly new type of mission. A lot of questions remain. May be that is why NATO’s response to the migrants’ crisis has been met with a great deal of criticism. For example, everybody is aware of longstanding disputes in the Aegean between Greece and Turkey. Wouldn’t it be an obstacle for the mission? Besides, the operation’s goals are vague. It seemingly has nothing to do with stopping or pushing back refugees, but is instead meant to collect intelligence at sea, monitoring and surveying the movements of boats carrying migrants and refugees. But wouldn’t it be more efficient to disrupt them before people began this fatal journey? At least for now it’s hard to see what difference NATO’s contribution at sea is expected to make. But let’s wait and see.