What's In Blue

Posted Wed 22 Jun 2016

Briefing on the Situation on the Syrian/Turkish Border

Tomorrow morning (23 June), at Russia’s request, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenča will brief Security Council members under “any other business” on the Syria/Turkey border situation. Jenča’s briefing will follow the Council’s regular monthly briefing and consultations from OCHA head Stephen O’Brien on the humanitarian situation in Syria.

When Russia requested the briefing, it expressed concern about incursions by Turkey into Syrian territory and sought more information on the wall Turkey is building on the border with Syria. Russia asserts that the wall is being built on Syrian territory. Turkey denies this, reporting that there is no encroachment and that the fortification Russia is referring to has been built entirely on the Turkish side of the border.

Russia requested information on this wall several times. It did so during the 8 June briefing on the UN’s efforts to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and then again on 16 June during an “any other business” briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria. It seems that the prospect of a briefing on this matter did not generate much interest among other Council members, which led Russia to request the briefing last Friday (17 June) under the “any other business” format, which cannot be blocked by other members.

Some Council members are perplexed by the timing and context of Russia’s request. In terms of timing, a significant portion of what will be a 240-kilometre long wall has already been built, with construction having begun almost a year ago in mid-2015. In terms of context, Russia has regularly criticized Turkey’s porous border with Syria, alleging that Turkey has a “role in the financing of, and the provision of resources and recruits for, terrorist operations in Syria.” Meanwhile, Turkey says it is building the wall precisely to enhance its border security from such threats, particularly ISIL.

Most Council members are aware that Jenča will not be able to comment authoritatively on the precise location of the wall since the Department of Political Affairs has no mandate to monitor the border. The briefing will largely be a summary of the information from member states, such as Russia, Syria and Turkey, and thus Jenča is not expected to have any new information for Council members.

While Russia requested the briefing focus on the wall, or what Turkey calls the “Turkish/Syrian Security System”, some Council members are more interested in getting an update on other cross-border issues. For example, they will be interested in getting clarity on allegations that Turkish border guards shot and killed 11 Syrian refugees trying to cross into Turkey last Sunday (19 June). Turkey has said an investigation is underway. Turkey, which hosts 2.73 million registered Syrian refugees, has closed its borders to further refugee flows.

Another cross-border issue that may come up is the Turkish presence in the Ba’shiqa region near Mosul that Turkey maintains to counter the activities of ISIL and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq. In that context, it is possible ongoing Turkish airstrikes against PKK targets in northern Iraq may also be raised.

Looking ahead on Syria, Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura will brief Council members next Wednesday (29 June) on the intra-Syrian political process, which is facing serious challenges due to escalating government offensives in Aleppo, Idlib, and the suburbs of Damascus.

Sign up for What's In Blue emails