FILE PHOTO: European Council President Donald Tusk arrives at the Maximos Mansion in Athens, Greece, October 9, 2019. REUTERS/Costas Baltas
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Council President Donald Tusk chastised Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Friday for threatening to send millions of Syrian refugees to Europe and blasted the Turkish operation in northern Syria as destabilizing the region.
Tusk, who spoke after meeting Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, said Turkey’s unilateral military operation was of grave concern and should halt while Turkey’s security concerns should be addressed through political and diplomatic means.
“A military intervention will only make matters worse. Instead of creating stability, it will create even more instability in the whole region, exacerbate civilian suffering, cause further displacement and threaten progress achieved by the Global Coalition against Daesh,” Tusk said, referring to Islamic State.
Turkey, which still formally aspires to join the European Union despite mounting EU criticism of Ankara’s human rights record, was stung by EU criticism of its air and land offensive against formerly U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters.
In a speech on Thursday, Erdogan called on the European Union to “pull itself together” and threatened that if the bloc labeled the operation an occupation he would “open the gates and send 3.6 million refugees” to Europe.
Under a deal agreed in 2016, the European Union has provided billions of euros in aid in return for Ankara stemming the influx of migrants into Europe, but Turkey says the money was slow to materialize and paltry next to the $40 billion it says it has spent.
“Turkey must understand that our main concern is that their actions may lead to another humanitarian catastrophe, which would be unacceptable,” Tusk said.
“Nor will we ever accept that refugees are weaponised and used to blackmail us. That is why I consider yesterday’s threats made by President Erdogan totally out of place,” he said.
Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Nick Macfie