A Strong Latvia in a Strong Europe
This article originally appeared on Atis Lejiņš's blog here.
In my parliamentary speech in the debates on foreign policy in January, I began by stating that the bedrock of a strong and independent Latvia is a strong Europe and NATO. (A strong NATO is largely dependent on EU structures). A month now has passed and I will expand my speech taking into account latest developments. I will adhere to the three main points in my speech: fight against terrorism, uncontrolled refugee flows, and Russian revanchism.
It is to be noted that the Angela Merkel has revised her position on the refugee question. Clearly the influx of refugees through open borders can become, or already is, a security threat to Europe as has partly been confirmed by the recent terror acts in Paris. We don’t know what awaits us in the future.
Chancellor Merkel’s over-riding aim is to avert the collapse of the EU and she has initiated a number of measures to contain the refugee flow into Europe, including setting a ceiling on how many Europe can take and strengthening the external border of the EU. These issues were reflected in her recent visit to Turkey. Furthermore Germany is ready to pay for refugees that stay in Turkey. These are big changes.
At the same time in Germany itself the previously generous benefits to refugees have been reduced and this has had an immediate effect as we learn from German media. There are now three planes that depart from Berlin to Baghdad every week where most of the passengers are from Iraq who have come to Germany seeking refugee status and were disappointed.
Recently the Financial Times ran a piece on these Iraqis quoting one as saying that he had not got a free apartment, free medical care, and cash in the pocket. The waiting was too long and hence he sold his remaining valuables to buy a ticket for home. That Germany is not the promised land is now spreading in Iraq.
It is interesting to note that similar views have been put forth by the influential global finance mogul and philanthropist George Soros, who indirectly effects politics in that he supports the Open Society Foundation. As is well known there are „certain circles” in Latvia who have taken pains to portray him as an evil force. Although he has been branded as having views inimical to Latvia, he himself states that refugee numbers must be contained, that economic migrants must be separated from war refugees and that the latter must be helped by speeding up processing procedures, etc. One could be forgiven if one gets the impression that Merkel took her stricter stance on refugees from Soros’s blueprint.
He also has defended the position that the refugee exodus from Syria should be diverted to countries closer to Syria away from Europe by giving financial aid to these states while at the same time not closing the gates to Europe. His foundation has put forth a six point plan which foresees that Europe takes a million refugees a year while at the same time giving aid to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, as well as uniting the EU member state refugee and migration services, uniting the border guard and establishing safe routes to Europe and target countries in the EU. In addition, global refugee standarts in camps must be established and support must be gained from the private sector.
Merkel together with the EU has reached an agreement that Turkey grants work permits to refugees so that they need not head for Germany, for example. Now NATO warships have been sent to patrol the sea border between Turkey and Greece. In addition, Turkey has agreed that refugees from Lebanon and Jordan cannot come to Turkey without visas (in order to continue to Europe). Visas cost money and hence the stream of refugees has already diminished. We thus see that both Merkel and Soros defend policies that keep refugeees outside European borders which is in line with Latvia’s interests.
One cannot but note also that in Iraq there is an on-going process of reconciliation between the Sunni and Shia. A recent example was demonstrated on January 24 when the town of Diyala was liberated from Daesh and hundreds of Sunni refugees could return. They were greeted by Shia commanders and guaranteed security. As there are now many peace zones in Iraq the question arises whether Iraq has not become a safe country where the inhabitants themselves demonstrate that returning is possible. Germany is granting financial aid to returning refugees.
The situation, however, has been made more difficult by Russian revanchism. It is Russia’s intensive bombing in Syria and territorial gains against the moderate forces supported by the West that is causing an even bigger refugee exodus and the measures mentioned earlier may not suffice. Putin seems to want to increase refugee flows in order to split Europe. We see a steady steram of European leaders visiting Putin. The most recent are the Hungarian Viktor Orban and, worse for Angela Merkel, the Bavarian Horst Seehofer prime ministers respectively.
Also from other parts of Europe we hear voices raised that sanctions against Russia must be lifted, for example France. The war in Ukraine is being pushed to the background because a part of Europe, in carrying the fight against terrorism, has fallen into Putin’s trap. Putin has succeeded in carrying off the feat that Merkel even in her own coalition can no longer be certain of full backing.
The war in Syria dominated the Munich security conference. The chairman of the Foreign Relations committee in the Bundestag Norbert Rottgen stated that Europe needs to arm and spend more money on defence. Even though Europe still needs the USA it can no longer be entirely certain if Europe can depend on them. He invited the Western powers to learn from Syria, especially with regard to European security. The novelty is that Russia has gained the upperhand in the region and, furthermore, achieved this by using only military force.
In the light of this Saudi Arabia has moved jet fighters to Turkey. If Aleppo falls, then only Assad’s forces and Daesh will remain in Syria. Consequently the West whether it likes it or not, will by default have to align itself with Russia in the fight against terrorism. This will play into Putin’s hands in the peace talks in Vienna. Rottgen thinks, however, that this strategy will have a boomerang effect on Russia and Putin will end up paying dearly for this.
President Barak Obama agrees with Rottgen on the „boomerang effect”. Even if Assad manages to win Russia will need to pay a very high price to keep him in power.
One huge problem with Syria is that Turkey, a NATO member state, has launched a war against the Kurds, which, actually means that it is indirectly aiding Daesh. Kurdish positions are being shelled by Turkey which can lead to a bigger conflict in the region with Iran joining its forces with Russia in support of Assad. The Turkish case can be a lesson for Latvia – never put party politics above the interests of the state… The Kurds are allies of the USA against Daesh, but Turkey is fighting the Kurds and brands them as terrorists.
Still, in the end, if Saudi Arabia and Turkey openly join the war in Syria, it seems hardly possible that Putin can win back territory even from Daesh in order to hand it over to Assad.
Published 22 February 2016