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Politics

Greece-Turkey Brewing Troubles Could Crack NATO’s Unity

September 12, 2022

ΑΤΗΕΝS – The rise of tensions between Turkey – which has undermined NATO by  buying Russian-made S-400 missile systems – and Greece, which said Turkey has kept violating its airspace with fighter jets – has the defense alliance in an imbroglio.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, irked that the US Congress doesn’t want to let President Joe Biden go through with his promise to sell Turkey more F-16’s and upgrade the Turkish air force, said he could buy Russian jets instead.

Despite Turkey buying weapons systems from an ideological enemy of NATO, the alliance’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg praised the country as a “valuable ally” and has refused to intervene over Turkish provocations against Greece.

In a feature, the Voice of America said the simmering troubles threaten to boil over, especially after Erdogan openly suggested he’s ready for an invasion, accusing Greece – which denied it – of having missile defenses lock on to Turkish F-16’s in a NATO exercise.

Erdogan, who has openly coveted the return of Greek islands ceded away under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne he doesn’t recognize, also demanded Greece take troops off islands near Turkey’s coast – citing the treaty he doesn’t recognize.

He’s also said that it would be a cause for war if Greece doubles its maritime boundaries to 12 miles, which would cut off Turkey’s coast from the Aegean and he would again send an energy research vessel and warships off Greek islands

“As the historic rivals escalate their war of words, analysts warn about the risk of current tension spilling into NATO business at a time when there is a need to focus on unity against Russia amid its invasion of Ukraine,” said VOA.

While both countries lodged complaints with NATO about the alleged lock-ons, the alliance’s Allied Land Command (LANDCOM) deleted a tweet – under pressure from Greece – congratulating Turkey on its Victory Day which marks the defeat of Greek forces in Anatolia in 1922.

That ripped Erdogan even more and he said, “Look at history. If you cross the line any further, there will be a heavy price to pay. Don’t forget Izmir,” he said, alluding to a defeat of occupying Greek forces in the western city in 1922.

He echoed those words earlier this week, warning “Turkey could come all of a sudden one night,” which led Greece to ask NATO, the United Nations and European Union to condemn the remarks.

In a statement sent to VOA, a State Department representative called on the two allies to resolve their differences diplomatically, not wanting to take a stand with either of them and playing both sides simultaneously.

But pointing to the Russian invasion in Ukraine, Washington said statements that could raise tensions between NATO allies are “particularly unhelpful,” adding “Greece’s sovereignty over the islands is not in question.”

REAL TURKISH TAFFY

The Pentagon wouldn’t comment on Erdogan’s lock-on claims but US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the two sides should talk although Erdogan has broken off all communications apart from the defense ministers meeting.

Analysts speaking to VOA said they don’t see a resolution any time soon, noting the troubled history of bilateral relations and the “tight politics” in the two nations’ capitals.

“It will take a mediator who has the skill and some leverage to be able to come up with something that these two nations can agree with. But I don’t see that on the horizon,” said Jim Townsend, former U.S. Deputy assistant Secretary of Defense on European and NATO policy.

Philip Breedlove, a retired U.S. Air Force General who served as NATO Supreme Allied Commander from 2013-16, said the two countries are almost always at loggerheads and hard to deal with.

“The leadership in Turkey is pushing the country in certain directions that have caused these tensions to rise once again as they have over the years,” he told VOA about Erdogan’s volatility.

Breedlove, who is now a senior fellow with the Middle East Institute, said NATO and the United States have managed similar tensions in the past and that it still could, although Stoltenberg has shown no willingness to stick his neck out.

The US and EU don’t want to see another war front in Europe with the Russian invasion of Ukraine still going on if falling out of the headlines, a focus suddenly hard on Greece vs. Turkey and Russian President Vladimir Putin watching.

“Whatever little cracks can appear in European unity, Putin can make them even larger and in fact split the rock. So, it not only undercuts European unity but also can spill over into NATO councils if one or the other country uses NATO as a weapon to hurt the other,” Townsend said.

With Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis – who has been building an arsenal against Turkey – facing tough re-election campaigns in 2023, Erdogan’s penchant for attack – politically or militarily – can’t be dismissed.

Townsend, who spent 30 years at the Pentagon working on Turkey issues, tells VOA that he “mourns the loss of (the) close working relationship with Turkey,” hoping it can be restored and favors arming Turkey with more F-16’s.

So does Breedlove who said the real enemy is Russia – which is supplying Turkey with defenses and possibly weapons if Erdogan tilts that way but the retired General suggested Greece is secondary in this scenario.

“The enemy is not Greece versus Turkey and Turkey versus Greece. It is NATO versus Russia. I would want Turkey to have that if they can’t have the F-35. We need to understand who the enemy is,” Breedlove told VOA.

He said the US should stick with Turkey because of its alleged value to NATO despite Erdogan drawing closer to Russia, or perhaps because of it, wanting to keep him on the defense alliance’s side.

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