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President Niinistö condemns Turkey's actions in Syria

The Finnish President said that the United States' role as the world police may be missed.

Sauli Niinistö
Sauli Niinistö Image: Emmi Korhonen / Lehtikuva

Turkey’s military campaign in Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Syria will complicate relations in the Middle East and force people to flee their homes, according to Finnish President Sauli Niinistö. It will also place the Nato military alliance in an awkward position, Niinistö said in an Yle interview on Thursday.

On Wednesday evening the Finnish government called on Turkey to end its bombardment of northern Syria and said that it does not condone Ankara’s actions.

"It must of course be condemned, Finland has said so. Last night the EU also found consensus on it," Niinistö pointed out.

Turkey aims to create a so-called security zone in Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Syria and intends to use it to accommodate people who are fleeing violence in Syria. Niinistö described the plan as a mass displacement.

"Turkey, which in itself has borne responsibility for three million refugees, would now like to push them into this so-called safe zone that apparently it must first annex from the Kurds. At the same time the Kurdish population will have to flee the area," Niinistö observed.

The president speculated that some people will suffer in the Turkish attack, while others will benefit. However he noted that the Kurdish people under attack will always suffer.

"Perhaps Syria, Iran and even Russia too stand to benefit," he conjectured.

People on the move

The Kurdish population has begun to move to escape the air raids and artillery fires and have been heading to southernmost Kurdish areas. Niinistö pointed out that whenever people start moving, they will head somewhere.

The target of the Turkish military campaign also includes areas close to the al-Hol refugee camp, where former Isis fighters are being held. It has been estimated that the Kurdish authorities do not have enough resources to guard the camp while fighting against Turkey. According to information obtained by Yle, EU foreign ministers will discuss Syria and the al-Hol situation on Monday.

Niinistö said that he considers Turkey’s actions in Syria as descriptive example of a geopolitical puzzle. For example EU countries have used Turkey as a buffer state to take care of millions of refugees in exchange for money, he noted.

"There are competing interests. You suddenly notice that your worst enemy may have something on which you are yourself dependent. And conversely, your best friend may be someone one who’s not all that pleasant. This is unfortunate but this is the geopolitical puzzle," he commented.

No advance warning of US pullout

Niinistö said that Turkey’s campaign in Syria did not come as a surprise. He noted that Ankara had long planned a safety zone and had previously conducted raids and bigger operations in Syria. At the same time, the United States and President Donald Trump in particular has long wanted to disengage from Syria. Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from the region offered Turkey an opportunity to act, he said.

Niinistö said that Trump did not indicate that he planned to withdraw from Syria when the pair met in Washington last week.

He said that he noted that a few days ago Trump announced that the US would only be involved in conflicts that advanced American interests.

"I think quite many [people] are wondering about the scope of this announcement. We all know that he has been quite reticent about the role of world police and that has also prompted criticism in EU. The US may now be missed in that role."

The president said that Europe must now think about the changing role of the US, noting that Nato is also in an odd position. Turkey is a Nato member, as is the US. According to Niinistö, the current situation means that two Nato member states are "quite involved" in Syria. Nato has not condemned Turkey’s actions, but some of the EU states that have denounced them are Nato members.

Niinistö said he doesn’t believe that Turkey’s attacks in Syria will ease the situation.

"How could there be balance when bombs are flying? This will definitely complicate the situation further," he concluded.

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