ATHENS – As the temperature in the Eastern Mediterranean keeps rising – geopolitically not just climactically – the danger to Greece grows, but so does its importance as a pillar of stability in the region. These were among the topics addressed at the latest panel discussion presented by the American Hellenic Institute (AHI) in Athens.
AHI President Nick Larigakis welcomed the guests who packed the ballroom of the Grande Bretagne hotel on December 5 and thanked the benefactors and organizers who made it possible, including George Economou, AHI Greece President, Retired Vice Admiral Vassilis Kyriazis, AHI Vice President, and AHI staffer Sylvia Gavala.
Fanis Papathansiou, ERT TV Anchor and Diplomatic Correspondent, was the moderator, and he also introduced the distinguished panelists, including U.S. Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey R. Pyatt, Alternate Minister for Migration Policy Giorgos Koumoutsakos, Dr. Constantinos Filis, Executive Director or the Athens-based Institute of International Relations, and Doug Bandow, Senior Fellow of the Cato Institute.
Among the points frequently made during the event was that while the increasingly important relationship between Greece, Cyprus, and Israel cannot be considered a formal alliance, there are powerful and vital ‘synergies’ at play according to Bandow, who added with justified irony, “Turkey has proven itself to be a great ally of Greece – by so isolating itself” in the region, which made the strong and valuable ties to countries like Israel and Egypt possible.
After spotlighting the recent second annual meeting of the U.S.-Greece Strategic Dialogue and the remarkable recent progress in their relations, Pyatt also spoke of broader threats, including the fact that “authoritarian regimes are now empowered by computer algorithms, supplemented by Big Data, ubiquitous surveillance,” and other technological tools, which enable it to threaten freedom and democracy.
It was also often noted by the panelists that while the region is dangerous and unstable, Turkey is often the source of that instability.
Koumoutsakos firmly addressed Ankara’s most recent most dangerous provocation, its Memorandum of Understanding with Libya, which represents a direct threat to Greek territorial integrity, but as a document he called it “geopolitical nonsense and legally null and void.”
During the Q&A, renowned Greek-American Astrophysicist Dr. Stamatis Krimigis expressed what was on the mind of many in the room, wondering, in light of the current dubious support from NATO and the EU whether Greece must focus on further building up its military strength.
Pyatt emphasized the relationship with United States, which not only remains critical for Greece but is getting more and more important for both, noting both that there was a 25% increase in activity at Souda Bay in 2019 and the growing importance of the U.S. presence at the port city of Alexandroupolis, near the Greek-Turkish border.
Earlier, Larigakis reminded that AHI “is an American organization…we hold our Washington policymakers’ feet to the fire…and we do it as Americans, based on what we feel is in the best interests of the United States…the pursuit of peace and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean.”
He pointedly added, “I don’t believe in mincing words…Greece is the geographic size of Alabama, with an economy the size of Tennessee, and with just four million people more than New York – but it punches way over its weight in terms of promoting U.S. relations in the Eastern Mediterranean – it shouldn’t have to defend itself as a NATO ally against a NATO partner. Its allies should come to its defense. Mr. Erdogan does what he does when he feels he has a green light – and I call it appeasement.”
Ambassador Pyatt joined the guests for a fine reception afterwards, where the discussions continued.