Turkey has stepped up its criticism of Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos for speaking out against Turkish provocations over the islet of Imia.
With Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras saying little, Kammenos - leader of the pro-austerity, far-right, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) who are junior partners in a government coalition - has been antagonizing Turkey.
Kammenos flew over the disputed Imia islets, which countries claim, and dropped flowers in memory of three Greek soldiers who died there in a helicopter crash in 1996 after a confrontation there between the countries.
The crash was blamed on an accident but critics said it was shot down and both countries covered it up to prevent a public backlash and likelihood of war.
Ties between Ankara and Athens remained strained over the weekend, with Greece’s armed forces under instructions to remain alert but calm, following an escalating war of words over sovereignty in the Aegean and an unprecedented spike in Turkish provocations.
But it was Turkey which first sent its army chief and a gunboat past Imia and had F-16 fighter jets fly over the islets, a move made after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was angered after Greece's high court rejected extradition of eight Turkish soldiers who fled to Greece after a failed coup in which they said they did not take part.
The Greek military is particularly concerned about a possible surprise move by the Turkish Navy in the Aegean – either another attempt by a Turkish vessel to approach the Imia islets or a claim by Ankara to search and rescue rights in the area – that would ratchet up tensions further, sources told the Greek newspaper Kathimerini.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry condemned the “tone” and “absurd remarks” of Kammenos, saying that they were “deplorable.”
“We condemn his baseless, inappropriate as well as unethical expressions against our country and our President and return them to the owner,” the Turkish ministry said in a written statement.
“It is so unfortunate that this person, with such lack of consideration, fairness and utter disregard for the most basic rules of courtesy at the international level, and being ignorant of the principal bilateral instruments regarding irregular migration, occupies the office of the Minister of National Defense of Greece at these difficult times for the whole world as well as our region,” the statement added and called on Greek authorities to “act with responsibility.”
The statement followed Kammenos’s comments during an interview with ANT1 TV during which he accused Ankara of “cowboy tactics” in the Aegean and defended his right to fly over the Imia islets.
That led to 138 invasions of Greek air space by Turkish fighter jets, which were shadowed by Greek fighter jets.
Greece has taken an otherwise lower-key approach but Tsipras hasn't muzzled Kammenos, letting him be a rogue provocateur.
Speaking from an EU leaders’ summit in Malta at the end of last week, Tsipras stressed that there are “no gray zones in the Aegean,” an apparent response to claims by his Turkish counterpart Binali Yildirim, according to which 130 rocky islets in the Aegean have “no identity.”
Tsipras needs Kammenos' party's nine votes to have a parliamentary majority and lets him speak out with near impunity.