ATHENS – At the same time Greece is hoping diplomacy will convince Turkey to stop repeated provocations in the air, land and seas, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said it's time NATO stepped up after shying away.
Both countries belong to the defense alliance but Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, accused by diplomats and analysts of timidity and being afraid to confront Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he will not intervene.
Getting frustrated as NATO sits on the sidelines, anxious over Turkey's importance geo-politically as it sits astride Europe and Asia, Mitsotakis said the defense group's looking the other way doesn't sit with him anymore after he, too, tolerated it.
“I think within NATO it is very clear that this hands-off approach – that, 'Oh we have two NATO partners so we’re not going to go into the details’ – is no longer going to be accepted by me. I raised this with ... Stoltenberg that we’re a NATO contributor and an ally and … when we feel that a NATO ally is behaving in a way that endangers our interests, we cannot expect from NATO a similar approach of ‘we don’t want to interfere in your internal differences,'” Kathimerini reported.
“This is profoundly unfair for Greece,” Mitsotakis said during a conversation with former US ambassador to Greece and executive director of the Aspen Security Group, Nicholas Burns, at the online Aspen Security Forum, the paper said.
The last figures available for contributions by countries to NATO as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) showed that Greece was third behind the United States and Bulgaria, while Turkey was 10th, below the minimum expected.
Mitsotakis showed his growing uneasiness with NATO and Stoltenberg pretending there isn't a problem with Turkey, which repeatedly send fighters jets into Greek airspace – 33 in one day recently – and vowing to drill for energy in waters of Greek islands letting human traffickers keep sending refugees and migrants to the bloc through the islands, despite an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union.
TURKEY'S RUSSIAN CONNECTION
“I think the alliance will find itself faced with the reality that an important member… behaves in a way that undermines the alliance and the interests of other members of the alliance. It’s an issue we can no longer afford to put under the rug,” he said, adding that Turkey’s “unreliable behavior” within the alliance, also raises security concerns.
“Purchasing the S-400 system is an issue of concern to all of us, including the US because it compromises the F-35, which is an integral part of NATO,” he said referring to the missile defense system Turkey has acquired from Russia – technically a NATO enemy – which could be used against Greece in a conflict.
He said the United States should be should be alarmed by Turkey's provocations in the East Mediterranean, including drilling for oil and gas off Cyprus, and a deal Turkey made with Libya dividing the seas between them, claiming some Greek waters.
But with President Donald Trump saying that Erdogan is a friend and “a hell of a leakder” and said to often do favors for him, Mitsotakis said his visit to the White House in December, 2019 showed him reason to be worried.
“There is a bipartisan understanding that the relationship with Turkey is not the same that is was three, four years ago. It’s not as predictable,” he said even though US troops take part in exercises in Greece, the US Navy has a base on Souda Bay on Crete and the two countries renewed a military cooperation deal with taking part again in the US-Greece Strategic Dialogue, which could be useless if Trump tilts toward Turkey.
“Pieces of legislation sponsored by Senator [Robert] Menendez clearly are an indication that there is a much better understanding in Washington of what is really happening in the Eastern Mediterranean,” the Greek premier said in reference to the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act of 2019.
Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, is a noted Hellenophile who backs Cyprus and wants an arms embargo lifted against the legitimate government on the island where Turkey has occupied the northern third since an unlawful 1974 invasion.