ATHENS – While Greek fighter pilots regularly intercept and engage in mock dogfights with Turkish pilots, the battle in the air is being matched on the ground between politicians and officials accusing each other of violating airspace.
Turkey for years has sent fighter jets into Greek airspace while NATO, the defense alliance to which both countries belong, has looked the other way, admitting it wants no part of the duel.
This time Turkey said it was Greek jets violating Greek airspace 30 times in a three-day period although Turkey claims parts of Greece’s territories and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan covets return of Greek islands ceded away in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne he doesn’t recognize.
Turkey said its radars had tracked the flight routes of the Greek military aircraft, sources not named told Kathimerini and the Reuters news, and that its Air Force chased off the Greek jets, without providing any proof.
“The side which tries to raise tensions in the Aegean is Greece. The radar recordings refute Greece’s claims, which try to portray Turkey as the aggressor. Greece is the one to initiate the violations and to display aggressive behavior,” the sources said, adding that Turkey will “continue to protect its security and rights.”
That snap came after Greece said it was Turkey violating Greek airspace in a high-stakes blame game that has seen tension rise as it did when Turkey sent an energy research vessel and warships off the island of Kastellorizo in an energy hunt.
Greece’s Foreign ministry said it protested to the Turkish ambassador in Athens over a series of overflights in the Aegean Sea, saying they were unlawful and an “unacceptable provocation,” but there was no report how that was taken.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he had informed NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg of the issue, although the defense alliance chief has said he won’t intervene.
“I made it clear to the Secretary General that this type of behavior by a NATO ally… is unacceptable,” Mitsotakis said.
“It undermines European security as well as the unity … of NATO at a time when amongst NATO members it is indispensable for all of us to remain united as we face the continued aggression of Russia in Ukraine,” the premier said.
Greece has suspended so-called Confidence Building Measures that, along with 64 rounds of exploratory talks, have gone nowhere and built mistrust instead, the situation getting worse.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said Greece was the provocateur, and that the Turkish Air Force had responded to the “provocations” in accordance with engagement rules.
“Greek Air Force have carried out provocative flights near our coasts on April 26-28, and have repeatedly violated our air space over Datca, Dalaman, and Didim,” it said, referring to resort towns on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.
“While Greece is the side instigating tensions, accusing our country with baseless claims is not in line with the positive agenda and good neighborliness that was achieved recently,” it added, calling on Greece to “sincerely support” the confidence-building mechanisms within NATO and bilaterally.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who met Erdogan in March – their agreement for a kind of truce almost immediately evaporated – said that Turkey’s recent stance on overflights undermines the progress made in that meeting and they need to “stop immediately.” No answer from Erdogan.
Turkey, he noted, has refused to support European Union sanctions on Russia over the invasion of Ukraine – while selling Turkish drones to Ukraine to fight Russian soldiers, Erdogan having it both ways.
” This is not the typical behavior of a country aspiring to join the EU family,” he said, which Turkey has been trying to do since 2005, its aspirations worsening under Erdogan’s hardline rule.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Greece and Cyprus were the only Western countries who were critical of Turkey’s stance on sanctions against Russia and said Greece was upset because sanctions barring Russian airlines from the EU means Russian tourists will go to Turkey.