The West, particularly Europe, is faced with a dilemma. It is challenged by tough players that casually utilize threats and blackmail. These are players who are hardly contained by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and they do not care about violating international law. Their political survival is effectively unchallenged because they have no real elections, no real parliaments or junior coalition partners.
Whether it’s with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan or his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko, it is a very tough game. Both leaders exploit the victims of humanitarian crises for economic or political ends. They are well aware that they intimidate Western leaders who have their minds fixed on the next local or national ballot. The specter of the refugee/migration crisis still haunts Europe’s political landscape and no one wants to think it could be repeated.
For the powerful and relentless leaders on the other side, the game can only end in a win. It’s very likely that they will be able to receive ransom and room for political maneuvering on all fronts pretty much in the way Erdogan did in his negotiations with Germany. And if things do not turn out that way for them, they know well that Western democracies will not be able to tolerate another crisis that would create political and social instability. There is nothing better for a leader who hates the West and what it stands for, as well as all the finger-wagging from Western officials.
For all these reasons it is important that Europe wakes up and behaves like a grownup. The countries of Europe must forge a united front and demonstrate the necessary political will to protect the EU’s external borders while at the same time sending the message that blackmail will not be tolerated. The 2020 incident in Evros, when Greece took a raft of tough measures as it tried to repel thousands of migrants amassed on its border with Turkey, should perhaps set an example for the future. There is no safer way to make a bully understand that there are red lines that must be respected. Even if these are drawn by the Western “softies.”