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Politics

Warily Eying Turkey, Greece Builds Naval Power, Air Force Defenses

February 27, 2022

ATHENS – Anxious that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine might embolden Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to make a move on Greek islands, the New Democracy government had already been adding to the Navy and Air Force to bolster defenses.

Now rival parties have supported approving the country’s biggest Naval buildup in 20 years, which week see Greece spend 2.26 billion euros ($2.55 billion) to buy three Belharra warships built by France’s Naval Group, considered state of the art in the Western arsenal.

Over the next year, Greece is expected to increase the order to four frigates and four corvettes to accompany them, reported John Psaropoulos for Al Jazeera, outlining how extensive the program is, including fighter jets.

Tension with Turkey had been building over the past couple of years over Erdogan sending an energy research vessel and warships near Greek islands to hunt for oil and gas as Turkey has been doing off Cyprus.

Turkey has since added demands that Greece take troops off Aegean islands near Turkey’s coast, citing the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne that Erdogan doesn’t recognize, Greece saying the soldiers will stay as a defense.

Turkey also doesn’t accept the United Nations Law of the Sea and Erdogan said the energy exploration that could impede on Greek islands will start again and warned that any attempt by Greece to double its seas sovereignty to 12 miles would be a cause for war because it shuts off part of Turkey’s coast.

Because of Greece’s many islands, extensing the sea limits would give Greece ownership of 71.5 percent of the Aegean, the report noted, which Turkey said it can’t accept and would respond accordingly.

With NATO – the defense alliance to which both countries belong staying away from its diplomatic clashes – Turkish fighter jets in 2021 violated Greek airspace 2,459 times and Greek waters 2,085 times.

“In the Aegean, ‘tongues’ are methodically being created, projections of Turkish naval power, where there are open spaces between Greek islands,” major opposition SYRIZA lawmaker Sofia Sakorafa said in Parliament.

“Turkish air patrols along the 25th meridian (in the middle of the Aegean) are now regular occurrences … Our national airspace and territory have become a field of hostile actions,” she said.

STAND AND DELIVER

With Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis seeking more for international allies against Turkey, including a mutual defense agreement with France, Erdogan warned against an arms race and disdained Greece’s reach-out.

“Ankara has launched an ambitious programme to build a blue water navy for projecting power far away from home,” Dr. Emmanuel Karagiannis, Associate Professor of International Security at King’s College London, told Al Jazeera.

“Modeled after the Spanish ship Juan Carlos, the newly built amphibious assault ship Anadolu could conduct long-distance combat operations. The Turkish Navy has also designed and built four Istanbul-class frigates with multi-role combat capabilities,” he said.

New Democracy lawmaker Dora Bakoyannis, who is Mitsotakis’ sister and a former foreign minister, said, “Greece continues to face a consistent and permanent threat from Turkey.

“We all agree about this in Parliament. We also all know that effective diplomacy requires that the country is properly defended,” she said.

Naval sources have told Al Jazeera the likely operational arrangement is that three Belharra frigates would protect the Aegean islands, while a fourth would operate in the Eastern Mediterranean between Crete and Cyprus.

Before adding to its arsenal, Greece was relying on warships up to 40 years old, unable to rebuild during the economic crisis that even military budgets feeling the effect, falling 50 percent to 4.6 billion euros ($5.19 billion) in 2014,  before coming back partially to 5.3 billion euros ($5.97 billion) in 2020, the report said, citing the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Still, that is less than a third of Turkey’s annual expenditure of more than $17.7 billion and Greece is far outgunned across the spectrum of weaponry as well as soldiers and other gear.

But the government said it would spend an additional 10.5 billion euros ($11.84 billion) for upgrades, including to US-made F-16 fighter jets while considering seeking F-35’s denied Turkey when Erdogan authorized purchase of a Russian-made S-400 missile defense system.

Greece had an edge in submarines technologically that were almost undetectable before Turkey made a deal with Germany – which provided Greece with the equipment – to acquire the same.

“The Naval Group needed to win a contract. We took advantage of this moment and succeeded in two things – buying three Belharra [frigates] for the price of two … and inducting these ships into the Hellenic Navy relatively quickly,” Mitsotakis also told Parliament.

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