ATHENS – The summer is traditionally off season for Greece and Turkey to take shots at each other – they need the tourists, especially after two years of COVID-19 – but Turkey is showing signs of stepping up the rhetoric and aggression.
Facing reelection in 2023 and trying to distract from soaring inflation, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his top officials – as well as even the opposition – have taken to claiming parts of Greece’s seas and territory, ramping up tensions and worry of a conflict, accidental or otherwise.
Greece’s military is on alert after repeated violations of Greek airspace by Turkish F-16 fighter jets and Erdogan demanding Greek troops be taken off Aegean islands near Turkey’s coast, citing the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne he doesn’t recognize unless invoking to his advantage.
The talk from Turkey has become more belligerent after Erdogan said he would no longer talk to Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and the bloc’s leaders gave the Greek leader tepid support.
There’s also worry that Turkey is again massing refugees and migrants who went there fleeing other countries on its coast in preparation of flooding Greek islands with more, weaponizing them, said Kathimerini about the growing troubles.
Turkey, under an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the EU, is supposed to contain some 4.4 million refugees and migrants but keeps allowing human traffickers to send them to Greece.
Among the scenarios being discussed, the paper said, is that of Turkey landing refugees and migrants on an island or islet whose sovereignty it has disputed and then sending Turkish forces to “rescue” them as a pretext to seize them.
The United States – which just renewed a military cooperation agreement with Greece and wants to add bases in the country – also had troops take part in Turkish military exercises, adding to the uncertainty of what Washington would do if there is a conflict.
Mitsotakis – Greek officials said he won’t take the bait from Erdogan – said he wants to keep trying diplomacy and dialogue, which has failed but that Greece is ready to defend itself.
FIRE IN THE HOLE?
He’s also had Greece buy French-made Rafale fighter jets and Belharra frigate warships and the two countries signed a mutual defense deal as part of his plan to build international alliances against Turkey.
Greece’s Foreign Ministry supplied Greece’s embassies and representations abroad with 16 maps from 1972 until the present that show how Turkey’s claims have changed to seek influence over more than half the Aegean.
Mitsotakis also briefed foreign leaders, and showed German Chancellor Olaf Scholz a map of the “Blue Homeland” doctrine showing Turkey claiming huge swates of the Eastern Mediterranean – but Germany, home to 2.774 million people of Turkish heritage and a major arms supplier to Turkey – has blocked any more EU sanctions.
Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said Greece won’t back down.
“We are determined to defend our interests based on international law, the law of the sea and the Charter of the United Nations,” he said in Belgrade after talks with Serbia’s foreign chief Nikola Selakovic, who backed Greece.
“The Republic of Serbia remains fully consistent in supporting Greece’s territorial integrity, both on land and at sea, under international law, including the law of the sea,” said Selakovic.
Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos said Turkey, despite the bellicose rhetoric, won’t attack because it knows there would be a punishing reponse from Greek forces prepared for a conflict.
“It is our capabilities that deter the other side from daring a military engagement, because they know the heavy cost that they would be forced to pay. Our armed forces are at all times vigilant, fully ready and decisive,” he told the Manifesto newspaper about Greek readiness.
He said Erdogan “always provokes tension whenever he feels threatened or faces problems at home,” but that the act is well known, including to the international community although NATO leader Jens Stoltenberg said Turkey’s a “valuable ally.”
Omer Celik, a spokesman for President Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, said Greece’s islands must be demilitarized in line with past treaties.
“As soon as you militarize it, you change the status of the islands,” said Celik.
He accused Greece of “aggressive propaganda” while the Turkish media also took issue with Greek “provocations,” citing the visit on Mitsotakis to the islands of Pserimos, Kos and Astypalaia, Turkey questioning some Greek islands sovereignty.