‘Are Greece and Turkey headed for an Intra-NATO War?’ - article
Turkey and Greece have been sending each other strongly worded messages over the Aegean at an unprecedented rate as of late.
Tensions have been high on both sides, and not just over the recent collusion in the Aegean.
In fact, the two NATO allies’ hostile exchanges have been without parallel in recent decades.
In article he penned for the weeklystandard.com, John Psaropoulos breaks down the Greece-Turkey conflict over the past year, and examines whether the hardened discourse might signal the beginning of war.
Greek foreign minister Nikos Kotzias, last autumn expressed concern that Turkey had become an “irritable power.” It was Turkey’s record 3,317 airspace and 1,998 territorial water violations recorded in the Aegean last year that brought about this evaluation.
“Our job is to behave responsibly,” Kotzias declared, so he invited Recep Tayyip Erdogan to become the first Turkish president in six decades to visit Greece.
Then came Erdogan’s Dec. 7 Athens visit. Deeming the visit was a disaster,Psaropoulos recalls Erdogan calling for revisions of the Lausanne Treaty of 1923, which defines the borders of the modern Turkish state, while guaranteeing the rights of Greek and Muslim minorities in the two countries.
Greece’s President Prokopis Pavlopoulos was quick to respond that Lausanne was “non-negotiable.”
Erdogan then hit back at Greece, saying it had relegated its Muslim minority into poverty, and remained racially prejudiced against it.
The Turkish president also demanded of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras the extradition of 10 Turkish military officers who are accused of being involved in the failed July 2016 coup, to which Greece has refused to comply.
Then on February 12, a Turkish coast guard vessel rammed a Greek one. Even though Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim called Tsipras to explain that the ramming was accidental; however, the fact that it happened near Imia - Greek islets whose ownership Turkey has disputed for two decades - suggested to the Greeks ‘’a territorial power play,’’ according to Psaropoulos.
Just when things could not have taken a turn for the worse, they did.
On the last day of February, Turkey arrested two Greek officers who were accused of straying into Turkish territory while on patrol along the Thracian border.
‘’The standard practice for both sides during the last three decades has been to return wayward patrols at the nearest checkpoint after a routine procedure. Turkish authorities instead jailed the men and charged them with illegal entry. More serious charges may follow. Greek Defense minister Panos Kammenos refers to the two soldiers as “hostages,” and Greek public opinion takes for granted their seizure as connected with the ten Turkish military fugitives,’’ Psaropoulos writes.
Meanwhile Greek polls indicate that 92 percent of Greeks believe Turkey constitutes Greece’s biggest threat.
U.S. ambassador to Athens Geoffrey Pyatt is worried about is the risk of an unintentional confrontation.
Psaropoulos shares that ‘’some observers see Turkey’s hardening stance toward Greece as an attempt to counter Erdogan’s slippage in the polls.’’
“He is very insecure right now,” a Turkey-based expert notes, adding that “It seems that there is a big qualitative decline in Turkish public opinion [towards him]. People discern fatigue. They no longer believe he is the leader who will solve Turkey’s problems.”
Another aspect in which Turkey is putting its foot down is the eastern Mediterranean.
‘’On February 9, five Turkish navy ships prevented a drilling platform contracted by Italian energy company ENI from reaching its intended site offshore northeast Cyprus. ENI is one of six energy multinationals—including Qatar Petroleum, France’s Total and ExxonMobil—which have signed agreements to dig exploratory wells on Cyprus’s continental shelf. Those wells are scheduled to be completed by the end of this year; early tests have confirmed deposits of 3.6 to 6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and indicated the prospect of much more,’’ Psaropoulos writes.
Looking at Turkey’s weapons programs, one may see broad strategic aspirations. While Turkey’s defense capabilities have risen along with its economy, Greece’s have suffered due to an eight-year depression.
Turkey spent $15.8 billion on defence last year; Greece, a mere $5.4 billion.
Some analysts are beginning to question whether the Turkish ‘’muscle-flexing’’ in the Aegean is a sign of a war on the horizon.