ATHENS — Shunning a strategy of confronting Turkey over aggression and disputes over the Aegean and East Mediterranean, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis' tack of using diplomacy to gain international allies is building a firewall against conflict.
Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias has been shuttling around the region at the same time Greece is gaining partners for energy exploration in the seas to counter Turkey's deal with Libya dividing the waters between them, unrecognized by any other countries.
In a review in Foreign Policy, reporter Jonathan Gorvett wrote that with Dendias also going to Israel and Palestine after Mitsotakis hit Libya and Egypt, that “Greece is making a major diplomatic comeback,” in the area.
Dendias also went to Jordan and Egypt during the lingering COVID-19 pandemic that has seen Mitsotakis direct a blueprint that has seen Greek officials and ministers in the United Arab Emirates and on Cyprus, where Turkey is going to again drill for oil and gas in the island's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Mitsotakis has also quietly built closer relations with other European Union countries, including France, which is supplying Greece with warplanes and warships as Germany – a major arms supplier to Turkey – blocked his call for sanctions for Turkey's plan to hunt for energy off Greek islands.
“There’s definitely a new appetite in Athens for engagement around the region,” Ioannis N. Grigoriadis, head of the Turkey program at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy in Athens told Foreign Policy.
“Greece is reclaiming its influence in an area it has neglected for years,” he said, with Turkey always on the horizon and radar, with Greek warships earlier shadowing Turkish gunships off the island of Kastelorizo before Turkey withdrew them to avoid any chance of EU sanctions.
The near-conflict with Turkey and the constant tension between the countries have provided “a wake-up call for Greek diplomacy,” Dimitrios Triantaphyllou, Director of the Center for International and European Studies at Constantinople's Kadir Has University told the magazine.
“On both the diplomatic and security fronts, Greece realized it was time for a major strategic rethink,” he said, even though former premier and now major opposition SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras said Mitsotakis was soft on Turkey.
So-called Confidence Building Measures and two chit-chats – one in Ankara and the other in Athens – under resumed exploratory talks that were non-binding and have done little to ratchet down the worry in Greece.
After Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's attempt to get 10,000 refugees and migrants to cross the northern land border with Greece along the Evros River was repelled in February, 2020, his blunder gave Mitsotakis an opening.
“This really backfired for Ankara,” Triantaphyllou said. “It created the perception in Greece, even amongst more moderate Greeks, that Turkey was trying to storm the border,” he said, and galvanized support for Mitsotakis in many quarters.
That led to creation of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum, which brought together Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan, and the Palestinian National Authority, with the EU and US observing, and the UAE a candidate.
It was put together for exploration of Eastern Mediterranean natural gas but sent a message to Turkey that Greece had allies and business partners, as important as wartime friends during a crisis.
Mitsotakis visited Tripoli to restore diplomatic relations and talk about that country's deal with Turkey but it hasn't yielded results yet, although the Greek Premier was making a gambit.
“In the case of the EU,” said Athanasios Manis, a research fellow at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens’s political science and public administration department, “Greece has successfully managed to convince all EU member states to formulate a dual EU policy of sticks and carrots connected directly to Turkey’s behavior in the Eastern Mediterranean,” despite Germany's resistance, that county home to 2.774 million people of Turkish heritage.
Greece was able to make a move “because of the failures of Turkish foreign policy,” Grigoriadis said. “Years ago, it would have been much more difficult for Egypt or Israel to join up with Greece for fear of alienating Turkey,” he said.