ATHENS – Despite a deep economic slowdown during the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, Greece will adjust its budget to buy more weapons to deal with growing Turkish provocations.
Turkey has an energy research vessel and warships near the Greek island of Kastellorizo where it plans to hunt for oil and gas, and do the same off other islands, including Crete, where the US Navy has a base on Souda Bay.
Greek warships are shadowing their rivals, leading to fears of a conflict that could engulf the region as Greece has reached out to allies, including France, Italy, Egypt, Cyprus and Israel.
The New Democracy government spent 17.5 billion euros ($20.66 billion) to subsidize workers laid off during a near 10-week lockdown that began in March and also to prop up their idled companies.
The European Union has provided up to 70 billion euros ($82.65 billion) in loans and grants to deal with COVID-19 but it wasn't said whether any will be diverted to buy arms, the government said it would use part of a reserve fund.
“We are in talks with allies to boost our armed forces,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas told reporters, adding that Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis will outline his plans during an annual economic policy speech on Sept. 12.
A Greek government official told Reuters earlier there were talks with France and other countries about buying more fighter jets to deal with constant Turkish violations of Greek airspace by F-16's, leading to frequent mock dogfights.
Greece's military and defense sector suffered budget cutbacks during a near decade-long economic and austerity crisis that required Greece to get three international bailouts of 326 billion euros ($384.91) that ended Aug. 20, 2018.
Mitsotakis will meet French President Emmanuel Macron in Corsica on Sept. 10, before a Southern European leaders summit (MED 7) to talk about how to deal with Turkey, Petsas said, the news agency Reuters reported.
Turkey claims parts of Greece's Continental Shelf and waters off islands under a maritime deal with Libya dividing the seas between them, which no other country accepts, Greece countering with a similar deal with Egypt.
That has stoked tension and brought the countries to near-conflict levels with NATO, the defense alliance to which both belong, staying out of the fray and refusing to intervene beyond trying to arrange talks, but failing so far.