ATHENS – As Turkish military officials were sitting down in Greece’s capital to talk with their counterparts and ratchet down tension, Turkish fighter jets violated Greek airspace 34 times, likely undercutting hopes diplomacy would work.
The two sides were to pick up again with so-called Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) with Greek officials reportedly not confident they would work as an emboldened Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, seeing the European Union issue only soft sanctions over his country’s ships drilling for energy off Cyprus has taken a tougher line with Greece too.
NATO, the defense alliance to which both countries belong, has refused to intervene over repeated Turkish invasions of Greek airspace and waters and with Erdogan saying he would authorize drilling for oil and gas off Crete as part of a deal he made with Libya dividing the seas between them.
Greece and Turkey maintain regular military-to-military meetings, aimed at avoiding confrontation along disputed boundaries in the region but it hasn’t worked to reduce the fear there could be an accidental conflict.
The defense ministers, Greece’s Nikos Panagiotopoulos and Turkey’ Hulusi Akar, met on the sidelines of a NATO meeting in Brussels a week earlier to discuss the agenda of the talks in Athens but there was no response about the new wave of air violations.
Four pairs of Turkish F-16 and a CN-235 maritime patrol aircraft entered the Athens Flight Information region (FIR) without having previously submitted a flight plan, media reports said of what is a common occurrence.
In all cases, the Turkish aircraft were intercepted by Greek jets in line with international rules of engagement. Six of the Turkish aircraft carried weapons, raising the stakes there could be a conflict.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)