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France-Greece Warships Deal Irks EU’s Backers of Turkey

ATHENS — Greece's 2.9-billion euro ($3.36 billion) deal to buy three warships from France and an option for a fourth to build a bulwark against Turkish provocations has drawn ire from European Union members who also sell arms to Turkey.

Germany, home to 2.774 million people of Turkish heritage and which supplies both Greece and Turkey with submarines and components, said that Turkey has to be cooperated with as a member of NATO, although Turkish warships and fighter jets repeatedly violate Greek airspace and waters.

Prime Minister Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had already moved to counteract Turkish threats Greece earlier made a 2.5 billion euro ($2.92 billion) deal to buy 18 French-made Rafale fighter jets, 12 used and six new and then upped it to 24 jets.

While officially there was little reaction in the EU, the newspaper Kathimerini noted that Germany had reservations and was especially worried that provoking Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would see him unleash more refugees and migrants who went to Turkey on the EU through Greece and its islands.

A number of EU countries also have major trade deals with Turkey or also sell weapons and other military equipment there and less concerned than Greece with Erdogan saying he would send energy research vessels to search for oil and gas around Greek islands and protect them with warships.

German government officials told Kathimerini that there was no annoyance in Berlin with the deal though. “We are aware of the traditionally close Franco-Greek relations, including in military issues,” they said, without being identified.

But they added that, “We hope we agree with Paris and Athens that it is also vital to cooperate closely and well with Turkey, our NATO partner,” even though Turkey has bought Russian-made S-400 missile defenses that could be used against Greece and undermine NATO.

A report in Politico Europe’s Brussels Playbook, titled “Franco-Greek Alliance Ruffles Feathers” said that “several EU countries are not happy,” but didn't identify them or say why didn't like the deal.

The report said that Greece's Ambassador to the European Union Stavros Lambrinidis had to place colleagues that, that “the deal was a pro-European pact that would boost EU defense autonomy.”

The pact also includes a mutual defense clause that stipulates Greece and France would come to each other's aid if attacked by another country, seen directly aimed at Turkey, which has a fractious relationship with France.

Some in the EU didn't buy Lambrinidis' explanation, said Politico, with one unnamed EU diplomat – they don't like to be identified – telling the site that, “It's a bizarre to say the pact contributes to European sovereignty.”

The diplomat added: “By all accounts, this is a traditional 19th-Century defense pact between two European powers. It has definitely more to do with the pursuit of narrow national interests than with Europe.”

French President Emmanuel Macron also raised the idea of the EU having a combined military might and force similar to NATO although the bloc prefers what it calls “soft power” diplomacy that doesn't work with authoritarian leaders.

The article goes on to say France now “fully backs” Greece’s territorial claims in the Eastern Mediterranean “even though those are internationally disputed,” including by the United States which wants to keep relations with Turkey and Greece despite competing interests between them.

Turkey though has been the aggressor in making territorial claims, especially in the Aegean and East Mediterranean, including off Cyprus – a member of the EU – where Erdogan sent energy ships to drill for oil and gas.

It wasn't said if the anonymous sniping shows a shift toward Turkey and away from Greece, whose demands for sanctions over Turkey's plans to hunt for energy around Greek islands was set aside.

Mitsotakis said the agreement would go through and that Greece would seek renewal the Mutual Defense and Cooperation Agreement with the United States, for five years instead of one. The US defense contractor Lockheed had a losing bid for the warships.

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