Syria vs Turkey vs Russia vs the EU… and the refugees

Syria vs Turkey vs Russia vs the EU… and the refugees

Fighting has pushed the Syrian province of Idlib to the breaking point. Russian-backed Syrian forces, Syrian rebels trapped inside the city, and Turkey's military are all directly involved, and the stakes in this conflict have risen dramatically in recent days as the conflict threatens to generate a severe humanitarian crisis that sends shock waves through Turkey toward Europe.

Turkey's President Erdogan and Russia's President Putin reportedly agreed on a ceasefire on Thursday, but previous such deals have fallen apart.

So, what do the big players in this conflict want?


If you're Syria's President Assad, you want your country back. Regaining full control of Syria means forcing the total surrender of rebels in Idlib, the last city your forces don't control. You also want your Russian sponsor to force Turkey's army out of your country.

If you're Turkey's President Erdogan, you want Russia, the big military power in Syria, to stop helping Assad attack Idlib. You want a ceasefire and a deal, because you already have 3.6 million foreign refugees, most of them Syrian, living inside your country, and the fall of Idlib might send a million more scrambling in your direction. You also want financial help from Europe to handle all these refugees and EU political help to get the result you want in Syria. To get this help, you'll threaten to tear up the deal you made with Europe in 2016 to house Syrian refugees in exchange for European cash. To show you're serious, you'll nudge a few thousand of them toward European shores.

If you're Greece's government, you want Erdogan to stop pushing refugees toward your borders. Protests have erupted against the refugees you're already sheltering. You want Europe to send money and troops right now to help keep your borders closed during this time of emergency.

If you're the leadership of the European Union, you desperately want to avoid a repeat of the migrant crisis of 2015-2016, which turned the bloc's politics upside down. You want Erdogan to know that you understand Turkey's problem and are ready to help with more money—but without appearing to give in to blackmail in ways that would encourage Erdogan to blackmail you some more. You want Greece to know that you're ready to help this frontline member state secure its borders. And you want this problem to go away so you can deal with other pressing problems—like Coronavirus and a slowing European economy.

If you're Vladimir Putin, you want to make the most of the Idlib problem. You want your ally Assad in control in Syria. You want to keep Erdogan in his place. But perhaps most of all, you're happy to see a new wave of refugees further poison relations between NATO member Turkey and the rest of Europe. You want Europe to have to spend more money on this problem, and you want a new migrant crisis—or better yet, the continuing threat of one—to poison the political atmosphere among and inside European countries.

Finally, if you're a refugee, or if you're trapped inside Idlib as bombs fall, or if your family has been living in a tent city inside Turkey for the past three years, you want hope. You want to escape hunger and constant fear. You want to believe that one day, you and your children will have a chance at a normal life.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

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