ATHENS — Not taking any chances during a roller-coaster ride of tensions with Turkey that plans to hunt for energy in the Aegean, Greece is building its military strength to add more weapons, including anti-submarine helicopters.
In a feature on Greece's move to bolster its arsenal while adding international allies against Turkish threats of aggression, the US Naval Institute News noted the approach of combining diplomacy with military might as a deterrent.
Defense Minister Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos said “acquiring high-end weapons systems” would include buying the anti-sub copters and modernizing four frigates already in the Hellenic Navy and US F-16s in the Air Force.
Greece's German-made submarines are an advantage against Turkey because they are virtually undetectable but Turkey moved to counter that with a plan to also buy German submarines.
Germany, which has lucrative arms deals with Turkey and is home to 2.744 million people of Turkish heritage, has blocked Greece's call for sanctions over Turkey's plans to look for energy in the Aegean and East Mediterranean.
Greece is “revamping the entirety of our armed forces,” while updating its defense agreement with the United States, and will upgrade its northern port of Alexandroupolis near Turkey's border, USNI noted.
Panagiotopoulos said that port will become a transportation hub in the Balkans and logistical base for Black Sea operations for NATO – Turkey and Greece belong to the defense alliance which has refused to intervene in the dilemma.
He said elements of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division used the facilities recently as part of the Defender Europe 21 exercise.
“Our aspiration is to make [the port and the mutual defense agreement] even better,” he said during a Center for Strategic and International Studies online forum the report added.
The work at the port will include extending piers to handle larger ships and expanding its fuel storage facilities and other work will involve rail, highway and pipeline connections to the rest of Europe as Greece continues to build its military during the COVID-19 pandemic despite a staggering economy.
The defense chief called the US Navy's base on Souda Bay on Crete “the jewel in the crown” of regional naval facilities for the United States and NATO because it can accommodate American aircraft carriers – as it did in March, with the arrival of USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) – and other large warships.
The former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA wanted to end that relationship, have no US military presence in Greece and wanted to take Greece out of NATO before former Premier Alexis Tsipras reneged on all those vows as he did over promising to end austerity measures attached to international bailouts.
He described Greece as the United States’ and NATO’s “anchor state” in the Eastern Mediterranean although Turkey is drilling for oil and gas in the sea off Cyprus, ignoring soft European Union sanctions.
“I would say we’re extremely active” in security operations “in the volatile Eastern Mediterranean,” Panagiotopoulos said during the forum, including taking part in joint and combined exercises like the Defender series and living up to Greece’s commitment to NATO to modernize forces after Russia seized Crimea in 2014.
He said that to Greeks what makes the Eastern Mediterranean particularly “volatile” is Turkey’s “neo-Ottoman” ambitions, which threaten not only Greece but the integrity of NATO, he said, Turkey having acquired a Russian-made S-400 missile defense system that could be used against Greece and compromise the defense alliance.
He said Greece sent part of its fleet off the island of Kastellorizo after Turkey sent an energy research vessel and warships there as part of a plan to find oil and gas off Greek islands, which threatened a conflict.
“We will continue to comply with international law, not gunboat diplomacy,” to settle disputes with Turkey, Panagiotopoulos said, pointing to NATO trying steps to ratchet down the tension, although they didn't work.
Panagiotopoulos said “our strategic aim was never isolating Turkey,” but its actions and “rhetoric border on belligerent,” as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he openly covets return of islands ceded to Greece in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne Turkey doesn't recognize unless invoking to its advantage.
“We would like Turkey to be part of the scheme” of regional cooperation that Greece has established with Cyprus, Israel, the Arab states, Egypt and Libya through new economic and diplomatic agreements, he said.