Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ lament that Turkey is being too “aggressive” and pushing invasions of Greek airspace and waters has drawn return fire from that country’s Foreign Ministry which blamed Greece for being provocative.
Tsipras used the World Economic Forum state at Davos, Switzerland to take a shot at Turkey for also flooding Greek islands with scores of thousands of refugees and immigrants even during a suspended swap deal with the European Union.
Tsipras called Turkey an “aggressive neighbor, sometimes unpredictable with an aggressive military activity in the Aegean.”
“For somebody, it is very easy to be also aggressive if they are living in Luxembourg or Netherlands, because their neighbors are Belgium and Luxembourg, and not Turkey. But it’s not so easy for us,” he said in English.
He nevertheless defended a controversial deal between the European Union and Ankara to stem migration flows in the Aegean, saying that it was “a difficult but necessary agreement.”
While the two countries are NATO allies, Turkey has kept up an onslaught of invasions of Greek airspace with fighter jets and sending warships past Greek islands, although President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to Athens in December, 2017 in a bid to improve relations and cool tensions.
“It is not possible for us to accept the statement of the Greek Prime Minister Mr. Tsipras against Turkey in Davos,” ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy said in a statement.
“We think that Mr. Tsipras should rather look at his own cabinet for the tangible example of ‘aggression’. Everybody is aware that some of his colleagues fit this definition perfectly,” he added.
That was an apparent reference to Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, leader of the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) who are junior partners in the coalition government led by Tsipras’ Radical Left SYRIZA.
While Tsipras has mostly not taken on Erdogan, that role was taken over by Kammenos, who has fired back at the Turkish leader’s belligerent statements against Greece, which included Turkey wanting the return of Greek islands ceded as part of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne that Erdogan doesn’t recognize, except for rights given to Muslims in northern Greece where he also visited.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, who has been even more aggressive, used Tsipras’ comments as a springboard to come back at Greece hard, disputing Greece’s sovereignty over parts of the Aegean Sea.
Hildirim also said Tsipras was creating more tension between the countries that Erdogan’s visit sought to lessen while also blaming Greece for getting in Turkey’s way of fighting “terrorism” in its region.
Yildirim told Turkish media, largely run as a puppet propaganda program by Erdogan , that Greece was trying to repeat the 1996 Imia crisis when the countries almost went to war over who owned a small rocky uninhabited island in the Aegean. Yildirim said that “will nt go down well” in Ankara, Turkey’s capital and seat of the government.
“In case something similar occurs, there are always means at Turkey’s disposal to defend itself. Let there be no qualms about that,” he said.
Turkey disputes Greece’s territorial sovereignty over Imia, known in Turkish as Kardak, on the basis of its “gray zones” theory which won’t recognize laws of the sea either.
Last week, a Turkish patrol boat conducting a dangerous maneuver bumped into a Greek Navy gunboat near Imia but no damage was reported and no conflict ensued despite the tense moment.
Turkey is also continuing to send fighter jets into Greek airspace although are members of NATO which has said nothing about it, and nor has the European Union that Turkey wants to join, nor the United States or United Nations.
In Davos, Tsipras was speaking at a panel on stabilizing the Mediterranean and ways to handle a migration crisis that has seen Greece, along with Italy, essentially left alone to deal with the problem after the European Union closed its borders to refugees and migrants.
Greece is overwhelmed with more than 64,000 of them, including 15,000 on islands sent there by human traffickers Turkey allowed to operate, even during a suspended swap deal with the EU, part of which was supposed to see those not eligible for asylum returned but only a relative handful have.
Tsipras called the swap deal, which has been criticized by human rights groups, as “a difficult but necessary agreement,” after saying he was “proud” of conditions in camps and detention centers on Greek islands which secret video showed were filth-and-feces ridden.