ATHENS – With NATO and the United States worried about the spillover effect of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Turkey and Greece are vying to convince Washington who is the more valuable ally.
While the US renewed a military cooperation agreement with Greece that will see a bigger American military presence in the country, President Joe Biden wants to sell Turkey more F-16s that could be used against Greece.
The American policy of “no permanent friends, only permanent interests” is being tested as the two countries jockey for position with Biden and the US, said POLITICO in a feature.
The piece by Nektaria Stamouli noted the proximity of Ukraine and Russia and the Black Sea, over which Turkey has access, and the arguments Turkey and Greece are making, like students yelling to their teach, “Pick me!”
“And both countries are playing different cards to argue that it — and not the other — is the most important nearby ally for the U.S. and NATO,” the story said, although NATO said it wants no part of disputes between them.
“Greece wants to be known as the ‘reliable and predictable ally,’ while Turkey is offering a ready military and connections beyond the West,” the story pointed out about the dilemma the US faces too.
Complicating the problem for Biden and NATO is that Turkey has bought Russian-made S-400 missile defense systems that undermine the security of the alliance and could be used against Greece in a conflict.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg nevertheless said Turkey is a “valuable ally,” but that Greece is a “pillar of stability” in the region – like the US playing both sides against the middle.
“Greece is projecting its usefulness in contrast to Turkey, and the role it could play for the U.S., together with a group of other allies, as an alternative, since they cannot trust Erdoğan,” said Constantinos Filis, Director of the Institute of Global Affairs and a Professor of International Relations at the American College of Greece told the news site.
But, he said, at the same time, “The West sees Turkey as a very important ally for them, a political hinge in the region, a very large market and an army willing to go on various missions.”
But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan refused to go along with European Union sanctions against Russia and is no longer talking to Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, irked the Greek leader in an address to the US Congress asked lawmakers to reject Biden’s hope to sell Turkey more F-16’s.
While Greece sent arms to Ukraine to fight Russian forces, Erdogan reached out to broker a settlement, which didn’t work, but further elevated his attempt to show that it’s Turkey that’s the power in the region, the EU having backed away from Mitsotakis’ request for sanctions over Turkish provocations.
“Turkey is trying to position itself diplomatically to leverage the influence it has achieved during the war in Ukraine,” said Sinan Ülgen, a former Turkish diplomat who is now a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels.
OH YEAH? YEAH!
Adding to the intensity is that both Mitsotakis and Erdogan face elections in 2023 and the Turkish leader is said trying to distract attention from record-busting inflation and declining popularity to drive the war drumbeat.
“The posturing has more to do with broader geopolitical positioning amid shifting balances than domestic politics,” said Emre Peker, a Turkey and EU expert at risk analysis firm Eurasia Group. “So, the structural tensions are here to stay,” he told the site.
That means a summer likely stoked with more tension instead of the usual detente for both countries to take advantage of tourists, although Russians can’t get to Greece because of a ban on Russian airlines – so they’re going to Turkey.
Erdogan said Greece is turning itself into a giant US military base and is upset that Mitsotakis authorized purchase of French-made Rafale fighter jets and warships – and wants US warships and F-35’s – and is building international alliances against Turkey, further iring a volatile Erdogan.
“The Greek government portrays the U.S. bases as a deterrent to Turkey, but in reality, their presence has nothing to do with Turkey,” said Ülgen, adding: “This political communication strategy has been adopted by the nationalists in Turkey, who repeat the same argument,” he added.
“They say, ‘Look what the U.S. and Greece are doing against us,’ and this further escalates the situation between the two countries.”
Peker said that Mitsotakis threw coals on the fire when he went to the US and Washington and complained to American lawmakers, although was careful not to mention Turkey by name when everyone knew that’s what he meant.
“Mitsotakis taking his gripes with Turkey to Congress really did not go down well in Ankara,” said Peker. “It’s not only a personal affront to Erdoğan, who puts a lot of stock into bilateral relations, but also undermines broader Turkish trust in a working mechanism between Ankara and Athens.”
Greece said Turkey has repeatedly violated Greek airspace, leading to pilots from both countries engaging in mock dogfights, and Erdogan said he will again send an energy research vessel and warship off Greek islands.
He also has demanded Greece take troops off Aegean islands near Turkey’s coast, citing the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne he doesn’t recognize unless invoking to his advantage and said it would be a cause for war if Greece doubles its maritime boundaries to 12 miles, isolating Turkey in the Aegean and East Mediterranean.
Erdogan also is again threatening to unleash on Greece millions of refugees and migrants who went to Turkey fleeing war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands, Greece already holding up to 100,000 in detention camps, almost all seeking asylum.
With Erdogan not talking to Mitsotakis anymore, and breaking off talks – 65 rounds over the years have gone nowhere, there’s little confidence of Turkey and Greece burying the hatchet except in each other.
The two countries can’t even agree on what “bilateral” means, said Filis.
“For Greece, it means we should talk to each other,” he said. “For Turkey, it means don’t go to any third parties” like the U.S.
“But,” he added, “is there any chance that a Greek PM could seriously go to discuss whether the Greek islands belong to Greece or whether Turkey could fly over Greek territory?” Apparently, no.