ATHENS – Greece’s new Defense Minister Evangelos Apostolakis, who stepped down as Hellenic Armed Forces Commander, fired off a broadside as soon as he took over, telling Turkey it could choose between “the path of collision and the path of cooperation” with tensions remaining high between the countries.
Apostolakis said Greece is “steadily orientated towards peaceful coexistence and cooperation,” but was ready to defend its interests in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean, parts of which Turkey also claims, with energy development seen another source of friction.
“I want to remind our neighbors that whenever the logic of cooperation and trust prevailed, our people thrived. But whenever nationalisms prevailed, our people were miserable,” he said.
“The foundation of our relations must be respect for international law and that is the only red line in our relationship,” he added.
His appointment was aimed to show Greece will be tougher in defending its sovereignty, Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras’ office said.
Apostolakis earlier had said that any Turkish forces who tried to land on Greek islets would be “flattened,” ratcheting up the tough talk after repeated violations of Greek airspace by Turkish F-16 fighter jets and Turkey conducting military exercises in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean where it disputes sea borders.
He replaced Panos Kammenos, leader of the tiny, pro-austerity, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) who had been taunting Turkish officials who fired back warnings in return and called him a “spoiled brat” over his provocations but quit, taking his party out of the government as well.
Earlier, Apostolakis received support from the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition for firing off warning shots that Turkey should ramp down tensions in the Aegean.
Alternate Foreign Minister Giorgos Katrougalos said after a meeting of the National Council for Foreign Affairs (ESEP) to discuss deteriorating relations with Turkey that Apostolakis was right to take a stern stance although Greece prefers diplomacy and good relations.