Opinion: Vladimir Putin is callously exploiting the plight of Syria’s displaced
With his refusal to allow aid through the Bab al-Hawa border point, Vladimir Putin could trigger mass migration towards Turkey and the EU. Once again, he is sacrificing people for his politics, says DW's Kersten Knipp.
As was to be expected, Russia is refusing to allow further aid into Syria. If no agreement is reached behind the scenes at the UN soon, the only remaining access point into northern Syria — Bab al-Hawa, near the Turkish city of Iskenderun — will be cut off from international aid supplies.
As things stand, some 4 million displaced people in the north of the country, who have so far relied on aid for the most basic supplies, will have to help themselves in other ways. The question is how? And does President Vladimir Putin even care? If his attack on Ukraine is anything to go by, it’s fair to assume that he doesn’t.
As a result, those 4 million Syrians will also become a pawn in Putin’s plans. The Russian argument that the aid supplies must be controlled by the Syrian government is cynical in view of the atrocities the regime has committed over the past 11 years; in view of the hundreds of thousands of dead; the displacement and flight of millions; the torture cellars and all those who were murdered in them.
All this is of little interest to Putin. He fears democracy and freedom as alternatives to his autocratic model just as much as Syria’s President Bashar Assad does. Thus, one war criminal supports the other.
Assad has reciprocated the support he has received so far. At the UN General Assembly session in early March, Syria voted against the demand to stop the Russian attack on Ukraine. More recently, at the end of June, Syria became the first country — other than Russia — to recognize the Ukrainian separatist regions of Luhansk and Donetsk as sovereign states.
Is Putin provoking a mass exodus towards the EU?
Although the Kremlin hasn’t said as much, it’s safe to assume that Putin sees the end of aid deliveries as a means of putting pressure on EU states as well as Turkey. What do people do when they face possible starvation? They flee, and they flee to where they can expect help. As things stand, that’s Turkey to a degree, but above all the onus is on the EU.
For Turkey, whose economy is being battered by soaring inflation, as well as for the EU states, which have been squeezed in many respects by the Ukraine war — and who have not always seen eye to eye on refugee policies — the scenario of taking in millions of additional refugees is the stuff of nightmares.
The EU just about coped with the refugee situation in 2015, but a further surge could have devastating consequences politically, especially with the expected resurgence of right-wing populist parties. Their renewed strengthening in Europe would be the perfect scenario for Putin. After all, their leaders feel a strange fascination and fixation with the politics of cold power — witness their barely veiled expressions of understanding toward Moscow.
Reform of the UN Security Council required
Blocking the delivery of aid through Bab al-Hawa is at the very least a threatening gesture. Similar moves could follow, for example in Libya, where Russia, if it wanted to, could also cause further unrest and insecurity, with knock-on effects beyond that country’s borders. On the issue of North Africa, the EU would also be under even more pressure in terms of migration policy than it has been so far.
Putin’s policy of violence has disastrous consequences, not only on the ground. Diplomacy is taking a battering too, at the UN Security Council. From the perspective of constitutional democracies, the consequence is clear: the Security Council must be reformed.
It is unacceptable for a tyrant to impose his will, his policies and his cynicism on the world.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the Observatory.