ATHENS – Facing ongoing provocations from Turkey, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis during a visit to Japan said Greece won’t send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine during the Russian invasion, and said Turkey was playing coy over the war.
Mitsotakis, in an interview with the Nikkei agency, said Greece won’t join an international tank coalition to aid Ukraine after having sent other weapons and materiel support to fend off the Russians.
“We have provided significant military support to Ukraine, [such as] armored personnel carriers, but we will not provide Leopard 2 tanks for the simple reason that they are absolutely necessary for our defense posture,” he said.
He added that Greece is willing to support Ukraine, “but not at the expense of our own defense capabilities.” The Greek army has about 350 Leopard 2 tanks and is on alert after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened an invasion.
That goes against what Ukrainian media said in reporting that Greece would send tanks, first noted by the Kyiv Post, which said other countries that would join the effort were Poland, Sweden, Spain, Finland, Canada, Sweden and the Netherlands.
He accused Turkey of “sitting on the fence” over the invasion after refusing to gio along with European Union sanctions although Turkey has been trying to join the bloc since 2005, prospects worsening under Erdogan’s authoritarian rule.
Mitsotakis also lashed out at Erdogan for threatening to block the accession hopes of Finland and Sweden to NATO unless the United States gives him more F-16 fighter jets that could be used against Greece and upgrade Turkey’s Air Force.
US President Joe Biden, admitting it was a quid pro quo, said he wants to give Erdogan what he wants, but faces resistance in the Congress with Turkey also having bought Russian S-400 missile defense systems that undermine NATO.
“The Turkish position within NATO has frustrated lots of lots of NATO members, and this has nothing to do with the peculiarities of the Greek-Turkish bilateral agenda,” Mitsotakis told Nikkei Asia.
THE BIG STRADDLE
“It is greatly profiting from the fact that it has a special economic relationship (with Russia.) If you belong to an alliance, which is also an alliance of values, you cannot sit on the fence,” he added.
But he also said: “I’m not worried about a possible conflict” with Turkey, Greece thinking Erdogan – who, like Mitsotakis, faces a re-election battle – is just blustering to play to a nationalist audience.
“But I am concerned that Turkish foreign policy over the past few years has become more revisionist and more aggressive, which I think is inappropriate at a time when we’re dealing with a blatant violation of international law in Ukraine,” he added.
NATO allies had debated whether to send German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and after long delays, Germany – home to 2.774 million people of Turkish descent, said it would send some, noted Nikkei.
Germany and the United States earlier said they would send advanced battle tanks to Ukraine, offering what one expert called an “armored punching force” to help Ukraine break combat stalemates as the Russian invasion enters its 12th month.
Biden said the U.S. will send 31 M1 Abrams tanks, reversing months of persistent arguments by Washington that they were too difficult for Ukrainian troops to operate and maintain, although Ukraine forces have proved adept at fighting.
The U.S. decision followed Germany’s agreement to send 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks from its own stocks. Germany refused to send the Leopards unless the U.S. Sent the Abrams, Germany fearing Russia’s backlash unless the U.S. was all in.
Biden said European allies agreed to send enough tanks to equip two Ukrainian tank battalions, or a total of 62 tanks. “To liberate their land, they need to be able to counter Russia’s evolving tactics and strategy on the battlefield in the very near term,” Biden said.
Speaking in a video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hailed the creation of what he described as a “tank coalition.” He added: “We must form a tank fist, a fist of freedom whose hits will not let tyranny stand up again.”
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)