ATHENS — Greece's 2.9 billion euros ($3.38 billion) deal to buy three French warships and option for a fourth was the key part but another part of the agreement calls for mutual defense – France coming to the rescue if Greece is attacked.
Neither side mentioned Turkey – directly – but the agreement came as Greece's rival has stepped up provocations in the seas again and the pact gave France a boost after Australia broke a $66 billion deal to buy French submarines.
The France-Greece deal is some 22 times less that for the French helped solidify already tight relations between the countries after President Emmanuel Macron stood by Greece in 2020 when Turkey was getting belligerent.
All three are members of NATO but Turkey has been able to get away with buying Russian S-400 missile defenses that undermine the defense alliance and could be used against Greece in a conflict.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had already moved to counteract the threat when Greece made a 2.5 billion euro ($2.92 billion) deal to buy 18 French-made Rafale fighter jets, 12 used and six new and then upped it to 24 jets.
While the talk was about the hardware, the heart of the matter was in the mutual defense that would technically bind Greece and France together if either was attacked by another foe – France unlikely to be targeted.
Some Greek officials, not named, said the deal also provides a “French Umbrella” for Greece's protection, said Kathimerini.
Macron expanded on that idea when he suggested the European Union, which uses what it calls “soft power” and diplomacy in foreign relations, which has see the bloc trampled by authoritarian leaders like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, should have military might to back up the talk if needed.
“When we are under pressure from powers, which at times harden (their stance,) we need to react and show that we have the power and capacity to defend ourselves. Not escalating things, but protecting ourselves,” Macron told a news conference with Mitsotakis there.
“This isn’t an alternative to the United States alliance. It’s not a substitute, but to take responsibility for the European pillar within NATO and draw the conclusions that we are asked to take care of our own protection,” Macron said.
The image drawn but not spoken of is what would happen if Turkey provoked a conflict with Greece as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has openly admitted he wants no part of the feud and has said nothing about Turkey repeatedly violating Greek airspace and waters with fighter jets and warships.
Greek officials not named said that, even if the option for a fourth frigate is exercised, the acquisition will cost far less than the 5 billion ($5.83 billion) that had been budgeted for upgrading Hellenic Navy defenses, the paper added.
“This will bind us for decades,” Mitsotakis said. “This opens the door to the Europe of tomorrow that is strong and autonomous, capable of defending its interests.”
Alluding to the gorilla in the room but not mentioned – Turkey – Macron said whe asked if the deal would exacerbate tension in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas that, “I don’t get the feeling that in the summer of 2020 it was Greece that was bellicose in the Eastern Mediterranean.”
France’s Naval Group will build the frigates at its Lorient shipyard and MBDA and Thales will provide the missile systems, the companies announced. The 4,200-ton and 121-meter-long frigates will be able to conduct anti-air, anti-surface, anti-submarine warfare or special forces support missions
Macron added the frigate sale was not meant to be seen as a threat against Ankara, but a means to jointly ensure security in the Mediterranean as well as in North Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans.
“It’s not directed against anyone,” Macron said. “It allows more efficient and coordinated action for peace, cooperation and stability, in an international order founded on the rule of law and the full respect of commitments.”