ΑΝΚΑRΑ – A hostile Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, popularity waning ahead of 2023 elections, openly suggested he’s ready to invade Greek islands and denounced European Union sanctions against Russia for the invasion of Ukraine.
He repeated his ominous warning that Turkey is ready to “come suddenly one night” to the Aegean islands near Turkey’s coast, after demanding Greece take troops off them – which would leave them open to attack.
He picked up his recent pattern of belligerence against Greece but upped the ante in siding with Russia after buying Russian-made S-400 missile systems that undermine NATO and could be used against Greece in a conflict.
He’s also pushing US President Joe Biden – who had been supportive of Greece – to sell Turkey more F-16’s and upgrade its Air Force, although Greece signed a military cooperation deal that will bring a bigger American military presence.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Greece is ready, day or night, and had already moved to build up the military arsenal with more French-made Rafale fighter jets and warships, and US warships.
Mitsotakis said that, “It is unacceptable for Greece to receive threats that even amount to a challenge to its sovereignty,” as Erdogan’s tactics also brought in shots at the EU, which had been reluctant to confront him.
He’s also seeking US-made F-35 fighter jets that were denied Turkey for buying the S-400 missile defenses and Greece made a mutual defense pact with France, Erdogan’s threats coming as France’s Defense Minister Catherine Colonna was in Athens for talks.
Turkey is holding 4.4 million refugees who fled war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands, primarily Syria and Afghanistan, and Erdogan periodically threatens to unleash them, mainly to Greece, unless he gets his way.
Visiting Bosnia, Erdogan repeated his threats and became more open that he wasn’t bluffing, already on edge after he claimed Greek missile defenses locked on Turkish F-16’s accompanying American B-52’s on a NATO mission.
“When we say that we can come suddenly at night it means that we can come suddenly one night. Why did I say that? They have these islands in their hands… and on these islands there are bases and much more, and if the illegal threats continue, then patience too will come to an end. When the end of patience comes, the end of patience is salvation,” he said. “I believe that Greece also knows this. When the time comes, then the necessary things will be done,” he added, reported Kathimerini as he upped the ante.
“Locking the radar is not a good omen,” Erdogan said about Turkey’s insistence that Turkish jets were locked on, denied by Greece, and no proof offered despite US B-52’s on the same mission and technology able to show if it happened.
Turkey and Greece have decades-old disputes over an array of issues, including territorial claims in the Aegean Sea and disagreements over the airspace there.
The friction between the neighbors has brought the NATO allies to the brink of war three times in the last half-century.
MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT
Erdogan said Turkey could “come all of a sudden one night” in response to perceived Greek threats, suggesting a Turkish attack on its neighbor cannot be ruled out.
Questioned about his earlier use of the phrase over the weekend and the possibility of Turkish military action, Erdogan reiterated the expression.
“What I’m talking about is not a dream,” he said at a news conference in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo. “If what I said was that we could come one night all of a sudden (it means) that, when the time comes, we can come suddenly one night.”
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said that for days Turkish officials have been making “outrageous comments” against Greece, including Erdogan’s remarks that he said suggested Turkey “could invade” the Greek islands.
“I would advise anybody who dreams of attacks and conquest to consider three or four times,” he said after talks with Colonna. “We are in a position to defend our country, our independence and territorial integrity.”
Turkey and Greece have decades-old disputes over an array of issues, including territorial claims in the Aegean Sea and disagreements over the airspace there. The friction between the neighbors has brought the NATO allies to the brink of war three times in the last half-century.
Dendias said Greece needs to defend its eastern Aegean Sea islands — including tourist hotspots Rhodes and Kos, which are much closer to Turkey than to the Greek mainland — against its larger and militarily stronger neighbor.
“The Turkish side maintains that these islands are under Greek occupation,” he said. “Let me point out that opposite the Aegean islands is stationed the biggest landing fleet in Europe and a full Turkish army group,” he said.
He also accused Turkey’s military of repeatedly violating Greek airspace and waters and as Turkey keeps insisting that Greece follow international laws – that Turkey doesn’t recognize.
“This year there have been 6,100 violations of our airspace, 157 overflights of Greek territory and 1,000 violations of our territorial waters,” Dendias said although Turkey claims the spaces and the US has sided with Turkey’s claims about how far Greek airspace limits can be.
Greece almost daily scrambles fighter aircraft to identify and intercept Turkish military planes and often simulated dogfights break out, which have led to several fatalities in the past decades.
Erdogan said, “There are some illegitimate threats against us and if these illegitimate threats continue there’s an end to one’s patience,” he said.
“When the time is due, necessary action will be taken because it is not a good sign to lock on radars to our planes. Such things done by Greece are not a good sign.”
Erdogan faces elections next year, as does Mitsotakis, and increasing rhetoric against Greece would rally his nationalist base amid Turkey’s economic troubles as he has become more authoritarian.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry reportedly sent emails to the EU’s 27 member states,
EU foreign chief Josep Borrell, permanent members of the UN Security Council, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, outlining Turkey’s positions “on the solution to the problems in the Aegean” and referring to “illegal actions and maximalist demands by Greece.”
“We have no problem with gas. Europe reaps what it sows. Europe’s attitude and sanctions against Mr Putin inevitably brought Putin to the point of saying, ‘If you do this, I will do this.’ I think Europe will go through this winter with serious problems. We don’t have that problem,” he said.