Greece Moving to Close Deal for French Frigates

Αssociated Press

FILE - Greece's national Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos, left, and his Cyprus counterpart Savvas Angelides talk to the media during a press conference after their meeting at the defense ministry in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Friday, July 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

With worries over Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has repeatedly let his fighter jets and warships violate Greek airspace and waters, and has energy ships drilling off Cyprus, is ratcheting up provocations, Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos said said a deal is at hand to buy French frigate warships.

A letter of intent signed earlier this month by Panagiotopoulos and French Defense Minister Florence Parly that could also signal closer military cooperation between the countries with France's Total energy company drilling off Cyprus too, where Greece has decried drilling by Turkish ships in the area.

Seen by Kathimerini, the letter speaks of the intention to “develop and reinforce” their relationship in the domain of naval capabilities as well as of an “exclusive defense partnership” that would enable Greece to acquire the two Belh@rra frigates.

But it also said that a “distinct and specific arrangement” would be needed to define the parameters of any agreement, as the letter of intent is not legally or financially binding and it's not a done deal yet and the cost wasn't given although it's said to be $612-$735 million each.

The warships are heavier than destroyers and have mixed armaments and Panagiotopoulos talked with Parly in Paris after they signed a statement of intent for Greece to buy two from the Belharra class, the paper said.

Panagiotopoulos said earlier in October there was “a long way to go” before an agreement is reached on the required “technical aspects” of the vessels and that the discussions would be broadened to include pending issues relating to the maintenance of French Mirage fighter jets.

The two ministers also talked about Turkey’s drilling in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) where foreign companies, including America’s ExxonMobil are also licensed to hunt for oil and gas, raising additional fears of a conflict if Turkey sends warships there too.

Talking with reporters reporters after his meeting with Parly, Panagiotopoulos referred to French and Italian energy vessels in the area, saying that they served to underline the “presence of the European Union” and its objections to Turkey’s continuing transgressions in Cyprus’ waters.

Those comments were widely reproduced in a misleading way, however, particularly in Cypriot media, with many reports appearing to suggest that Panagiotopoulos had requested the presense of foreign vessels in the area, said Kathimerini, although ships from the US Sixth Fleet are there.

The legitimate government of Cyprus – Turkey has occupied the northern third since an unlawful 1974 invasion – requested a joint exercise in Cyprus’ EEZ with French and Italian forces, an overture that was rejected by both italy and France and as the CEO of the Italy energy firm Eni, which has a ship off Cyprus, said he would pull it out if Turkish warships show up.

Panagiotopoulos’ discussions did reportedly touch on the prospects for a naval cooperation between Greece and France but that was a response to the aid requested by the French for patrols in the Horn of Africa.

In December, 2018, then-defense minister Panos Kammenos said austerity-crushed Greeks – as well as the wealthy and oligarchs that then-Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras said he wanted to crush should donate to help pay for the cost of new frigates for the Navy into a special bank account being set up.

Kammenos, who is among the wealthy class in the country, said he would set an example and sid that, “I will I will be the first to donate my salary in this effort,”

Kammenos was leader of SYRIZA’s junior coalition partner, the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) – before quitting in a flap over the deal to give away the name of Macedonia to a newly-renamed North Macedonia, and said that the ministry needs financial help during his tenure military expenditure was $4.959 billion in 2017, a drop of $4.05 billion.

“We now need the great donors and benefactors of our country. I call on Greek shipowners and all Greek citizens to assist in the national effort as of January 1, 2019, when the bank account will open to support the Navy and purchase new frigates and a flagship,” he said in a speech at the Naval Academy in Piraeus, also said Kathimerini.