ATHENS – Tensions with Turkey near the boiling point – Greece has taken its case to the United Nations, NATO, and the European Union to complain it’s bringing the two countries to the point of conflict, or worse.
The UN has shown no inclination to intervene, however, and NATO – the defense alliance to which both countries belong – said it wants no part of the troubles and has praised Turkey as a “valuable ally.”
Only the EU, which had been reluctant to confront Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in fear he would unleash millions more refugees and migrants on the bloc – through Greece – has stepped up to defend Greece.
The talk is almost of war as Erdogan, facing a tough re-election campaign in a bid to keep his authoritarian government in power, has openly suggested an invasion after coveting the return of Greek islands ceded away under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne he doesn’t recognize.
Greece’s New Democracy government has responded not with bristle but continued diplomatic approaches that have failed to move an increasingly belligerent Erdogan, whose ire rose after he complained Greek defense missile systems locked on Turkish fighter jets in a NATO mission.
Greece asked NATO, the UN and EU to formally condemn the bellicose talk coming out of Turkey, led by Erdogan and his ultra-nationalist political allies, some pushing for military action.
Unless the tension is ratcheted down, Greece said it could brew over into a second war in Europe, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine ongoing and would put the EU and world in further turmoil.
In the letters, copies of which were seen by The Associated Press, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said the behavior of his country’s historic regional rival — and NATO ally — should be censured by the three bodies.
“By not doing so in time or by underestimating the seriousness of the matter, we risk witnessing again a situation similar to that currently unfolding in some other part of our continent,” he wrote, in an allusion to the war in Ukraine. “This is something none of us would really wish to see.”
The letters come at a low point in relations between the two neighbors, who are separated by centuries-long enmity and contemporary disputes, including Aegean Sea boundaries and immigration. Greece and Turkey have come close to war three times in the last half-century.
Erdogan reiterated a thinly veiled invasion threat made earlier in which he said that his forces could “come all of a sudden one night,” after he complained it would be over Greek threats – which weren’t made.
VISIBLE BY THEIR ABSENCE
In the letters to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and UN leader Antonio Guterres, Greek officials quoted Erdogan’s references to Greek “occupation” of Aegean Sea islands that have been part of Greece for decades, and to the Greek people as “vile.”
“The Turkish leadership has apparently chosen to present future aggression as already prepared and, more importantly, as a justified action,” said Dendias with the worry of possible war rising.
“Unless seen in its true dimensions and properly dealt with by the international community, this Turkish attitude risks destabilizing our wider region and causing consequences of which the gravity is hard to assess,” he added.
Turkey said Greece is violating international agreements that Turkey doesn’t recognize by keeping troops on Aegean islands near Turkey’s coast and wants them withdrawn, which would leave them open to invasion.
Greece said there have been constant violations of airspace by Turkish F-16’s but Turkey says that Greece has been violating Turkish airspace and the US has sided with Turkey’s interpretation of boundaries.
Greece says it needs to defend its eastern islands- including tourist hotspots Rhodes and Kos, which are much closer to Turkey than to the Greek mainland – against its larger and militarily stronger neighbor.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has been adding to Greece’s arsenal with acquisitions of French-made Rafale fighter jets and warships and American warships and made a mutual defense pact with France.
But Turkey said US President Joe Biden has promised more F-16 fighters and upgrading Turkey’s Air Force although it must be ratified by the US Congress and Mitsotakis, addressing American lawmakers in May, asked them to reject it, drawing Erdogan’s wrath.
Dendias accused Turkey of carrying out 6,100 Greek airspace violations this year, including 157 overflights of Greek territory and Greek fighter pilots almost daily scramble to intercept Turkish pilots, often in mock dog fights.
“The Turkish attitude is a destabilizing factor for NATO’s unity and cohesion, weakening the southern flank of the alliance at a moment of crisis,” Dendias wrote to Stoltenberg who has admitted he won’t do anything about it.
The US, which has a military presence in both countries, said Erdogan’s threats were adding to the trouble and stressed that Greek sovereignty over the Aegean island “is not in question,” reported Kathimerini.
“At a time when Russia has again invaded a sovereign European state, statements that could raise tensions between NATO allies are particularly unhelpful,” a State Department spokesperson said when asked about Erdogan’s latest remarks, without naming him directly.
“The United States continues to encourage our NATO allies to work together to maintain peace and security in the region, and to resolve differences diplomatically,” the spokesperson said cautiously.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)