ATHENS – The theory that the threatening words of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was hurling at Greece in recent weeks was just domestic political bluster whose purpose was to help him snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in Constantinople’s recent mayoral election was put to the test this week when the Turkish leader continued to raise the stakes.
Showing less and less concern for U.S. positions and Greek admonitions, Erdogan said on Tuesday, “We have four ships in the area and we have taken measures. The prime minister of Greece has been talking on his own, but regardless of what he says, we have rights there,” Erdogan was quoted by Kathimerini.
Even Erdogan’s political opponents chimed in and the leader of a Turkish opposition party, Devlet Bahceli, on Wednesday warned Athens that it is “playing with fire.”
ERDOGAN SPITTING FIRE WHILE LICKING HIS WOUNDS
It was his internal political opponents, however, who were Erdogan’s most salient concern. “In his first public appearance since a crushing defeat in a rerun election for mayor of Istanbul,” AP reported, “Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday vowed to draw lessons and make adjustments in line with ‘the messages given by the people.’”
He was addressing legislators from his party in Parliament, where he congratulated opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu, who became Mayor of Constantinople after winning 54.21% of the vote in last Sunday’s election do-over.
“In line with our political understanding, we cannot be angry or hold a grudge or blame the people… we don’t have the luxury of turning a deaf ear and ignoring the messages given by the people,” Erdogan said after the crushing personal and partisan defeat – he presented the election as a referendum on his governance at a time of Turkish economic weakness.
“The win electrified the secular party that has spent nearly two decades in lackluster opposition as Erdogan strengthened his hold on power. The opposition also gained hold of the municipality of the capital, Ankara, in the March 31 local elections,” wrote AP.
TURKEY’S DRILLING OFF CYPRUS A HOT TOPIC
Turkey’s Foreign Minister, however, was free to stray. On the sidelines of a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels on Wednesday, Greek Defense Minister Evangelos Apostolakis explained Athens’ opposition to Turkey’s drilling plans off Cyprus during a meeting with Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar. “I expressed our objections to their activities in the Aegean and Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone. I reiterated that we want peace and security but will in no way back down from defending our sovereign rights…We want to avoid tension. Besides, this is the purpose of the talks between our technical teams around over the confidence-building measures,” he added, according to Kathimerini.
Earlier on Wednesday Greece’s National Council for Foreign Policy discussed measures the European Union is considering taking against Turkey over its drilling plans.
U.S. ALSO ISSUES MORE WARNINGS
On another front that does not bode well for stability in the Eastern Mediterranean, Kathimerini reported that “Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper made it clear to Turkey on Wednesday that it will face economic sanctions if it goes ahead with the purchase of a Russian missile defense system, as the standoff between the two NATO allies dragged on.”
Esper met with Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar during a NATO meeting this week and reinforced the U.S. message regarding the S-400, declaring that if Turkey buys the system, “it will not be allowed to buy the high-tech F-35 fighter jet. The meeting, however, ended with no discernible results,” according to AP.
Turkey is rejecting ultimatums from Washington and insists that the purchase is a done deal. The U.S. considers the Russian system a threat to the fighter jet, justifying dropping Ankara from the F-35 program if it buys the S-400. It was instead offered the American-made Patriot missile defense system as an alternative.
Esper, explained to reporters that, “Turkey has been a longstanding and trusted partner and ally for many, many years,” but that “the pursuit of the S-400 undermines that.”
According to AP, “The U.S. has already stopped training Turkish pilots on the F-35, and given Ankara until the end of July to get its personnel out of the U.S.”
The topic is expected to come up in the next few days during an expected meeting between President Donald Trump and Tayyip Erdogan during the Group of 20 meeting in Japan.
Erdogan expressed his view to reporters on Thursday “If NATO allies are now imposing sanctions on each other, I don’t know anything about that,” Erdogan said. “These are not impressions I got from the talks I have had with Mr. Trump until now.”
Material from Naftemporiki, the Associated Press and Kathimerini was used in this article.