KASTANIES, Greece – Turkey has followed up sending thousands of refugees and migrants to the Greek border by stepping up provocations with reports Turkey’s Special Forces fired over a Greek military vehicle stationed at the standoff.
That came after a video showed a Turkish Guard vessel rammed a Greek Coast Guard boat from behind off the island of Kos near the Turkish coast, one of the five Greek islands holding some 42,000 refugees and migrants Turkey let human traffickers send.
That had been going on before Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan broke the terms of a 2016 swap deal with the European Union and opened his country’s borders, urging refugees and migrants to cross over before Greece shut down its side of the border.
Erdogan said he had no choice after 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in an area of northern Syria they had invaded, making him fear more Syrians would flee a civil war and come to his country, which is already holding some 3.2 million of them.
That’s on top of another 2.3 million from other countries, including Afghanistan, who went there in a bid to get to more prosperous countries in the EU before the bloc shut its borders to them, dumping the problem largely on Greece during its long-running economic crisis.
EU leaders, reluctant to issue sanctions against Erdogan or Turkey, met with him in Brussels where he demanded they release 3 billion euros ($3.38 billion) being held back from a 6-billion euro ($6.76 billion) package included in the swap deal, which they said they would reconsider while also backing Greece in tweets and press releases.
Turkey’s security forces are getting bolder as the EU watches, said Kathimerini in reporting the shots fired at the border adding to the anxiety that a conflict could ensue or that Erdogan is trying to create a “hot incident” to make moves on Greek islets and territories.
The newspaper said that earlier, a Greek border guard on night patrol came under fire from the Turkish side of the border and that armed officers of Turkey’s special operations unit – Polis Ozel Harekat – patrol the Evros River there on dinghies.
Greek riot police and Army units at the border were on high alert, with water cannons being fired at migrants on the Turkish side seen tossing Molotov Cocktails toward the Greek side, said SKAI TV, and tension soaring to a boiling point.
The station said some migrants also tried to cut a hole in the fence to pass through, but Greek authorities responded with teargas and water cannons.
ERDOGAN TALKS TOUGH
An apparently emboldened Erdogan, seeing the EU back down, celebrated the ramming of the Greek vessel with incidents rising a couple of weeks after officials from both countries met in Athens to talk about Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) before the Turkish leader said he would no longer talk to Mitsotakis nor be in photos with him.
With the lines of communication between the countries broken, Erdogan indicated his country’s Coast Guard and naval vessels will now pursue Greek boats in the Aegean and East Mediterranean, whose sovereignty Turkey disputes.
“They will run away and we will chase them. That’s how it will be from now on,” Erdogan said, according to reports in the Greek media, in translated comments.
The Greek Coast Guard said the ramming of one of its vessels by the Turkish boat was deliberate. A video posted by the correspondent of Germany’s Bild in Greece revealed that, Greek Coast Guard officers on the boat said, “They hit us from behind, they broke the edge.”
The Greek vessel was patrolling the sea border at the time of the incident, which resulted in some damage, but no injuries and no response from the Greek crew, the incident coming after another Turkish Coast Guard boat chased a Greek vessel off the island of Lesbos.
Repeating a long-standing pattern, Turkish fighter jets kept invading Greek airspace, with Greek defense officials saying Turkish F-16s flew over northern Evros on the Greek-Turkish land border before another pair of Turkish F-16s conducted an overflight over the Kalogeroi complex of islets in the central Aegean.
Shipping Minister Yiannis Plakiotakis said Turkey’s aim was clear, “to provoke an incident in the Aegean,” said the newspaper, adding to speculation that Erodgan is trying to goad Greece into a war.