Erdogan Says Turkish Fighter Jets Will Patrol Aegean Skies

(Presidential Press Service, Pool Photo via AP)

Keeping up his provocations, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan defended violations of Greek airspace, saying, “We scramble aircraft in the Aegean, as long as the Greeks do so,” and justified his country’s purchase of Russian-made S-400 anti-aircraft missile defenses.

Turkey – a fellow NATO member with Greece – also wants to buy US-made F-35 fighter jets but that’s being held up over American objections to buying missile defenses from Russia, an ideological enemy of the defense alliance.

With worry the S-400’s could be used against Greece in case of a conflict, Turkey also almost daily sends fighters into Greek airspace, where they are intercepted by Greek pilots and sometimes engage in mock dogfights.

Greek officials, in a statement – there are few to no news conferences in the country and ministers and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras rarely speak to reporters directly – condemned Erdogan’s statement.

“Turkey’s effort to equate the flights of Turkish military aircraft that violate Greece’s national sovereignty with the identification and interception missions the Hellenic Air Force carries out in defense of national sovereignty, is completely unacceptable,” the statement said.

Erdogan told the newspaper Haberturk that Turkish jets are only responding to the activities of their Greek counterparts. “(The Greek jets) are not tourist airplanes,” he said, adding that if “you take off, then mine will also do the same.”

“When sometimes our planes take off in the Aegean, you see planes also taking off from Greece. But when Greece’s planes take off, we launch ours,” he said.

Greece’s response added, “Turkey’s leadership has to realise that international law must be respected by everybody, in its entirety. Selective application of its provisions merely serves to expose Turkey, while at the same time undermines regional security and stability. Specifically with regard to the Aegean, we reiterate that its legal status is clear and fully enshrined in International Law, leaving no room for doubt.”