Greek Foreign Minister Kotzias Tears into Turkey, Erdogan

Greece's Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias speaks to the press before talks about the name dispute between FYROM and Greece in Vienna, Austria, Friday, March 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

ATHENS – With his government trying to ease tensions, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias instead joined Defense Minister Panos Kammenos in blaming Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in stepping up provocations in the Aegean and keeping two Greek soldiers in detention after they accidentally crossed the border.

Kotzias is from the anti-nationalist ruling Radical Left SYRIZA of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras while Kammenos is leader of the nationalist, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) who are junior partners in the coalition.

In an interview with Germany’s Spiegel, Kotzias said Erdogan, who came to Athens in December, 2017 to meet Greek leaders and try to ease tensions, had instead upped the ante, was arrogant and believing he can do anything he wants, which he has so far with NATO – to which both countries belong – the United States, European Union and United Nations doing little to stop him.

Turkey, he said, is trying to take out its domestic nervousness on Greece which must not get dragged into a “chicken game” with Turkish fighter jets invading Greek airspace repeatedly and sending warships past Greek islands.

Kotzias also said that Turkey is unlawfully blocking foreign energy companies from drilling for oil and gas off Cyprus, the northern third of which has been occupied since a 1974 invasion, and as Erdogan has sought to expand Turkish energy interests in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Kotzias said there’s no link between the Greek soldiers facing trial in Turkey and Erdogan’s demand that Greece return eight Turkish soldiers seeking asylum after fleeing a failed coup against the Turkish President in July, 2016 in which they said they took no part.

But while Kammenos has used provocative language, Kotzias said Greece should use softer language in its condemnation of Turkey and Erdogan, who has ignored Greece, Cyprus and the international community as he pushes his agenda to gain what he called a “Greater Turkey,” seen by Greece as eager to seize Greek territories and islands.