Dendias’ Turkey visit only confirmed what is already obvious

To many a foreign eye, Greece’s Foreign Minister’s visit to Ankara, which popped out of the blue, was puzzling. It seemed sudden, as if it discreetly held a promise of a breakthrough in the ever-thorny Greek - Turkish relationship. Such were the question marks. 

But another question immediately became dominant. What would have possibly made the Turkish side change its mind and position on the issues that flared up from early 2019, with Ankara’s launching of the “Blue Homeland” doctrine, its escalation with the Turkish-Libyan maritime deal, followed by “NAVTEX wars” and assertive exploration activities by Turkish seismic research vessels in Eastern Mediterranean? How much should one read into the echoes of the latest EU Summit in the corridors of Erdoğan’s Palace?

“The aim of my visit to Ankara, the first by a Greek foreign minister since 2015, was to explore the potential for a positive agenda with Turkey so that we could achieve, to begin with, a climate of de-escalation, not consensus,” said Dendias, as the dust settled after a spat in the joint press conference with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Çavuşoğlu. 

What was the result? Dendias assessed - on vague grounds - that there wouldn’t be “a hardening of Turkey’s position on issues regarding the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean”, but he ended up stating the obvious: “I see a cementing of positions that diverge from international law. Something which makes the prospect of an agreement difficult, but not impossible.”

Well, everyone could agree that nothing is impossible, so it is easy to detect only the Greek approach in the minister’s conclusion, that no matter what Athens will continue to try to talk.

But, back to the question: Was it worth it to fly so many miles to be received in the court of President Erdoğan and establish the bitter fact that both capitals continue to remain miles away on any breakthrough? In some aspects, arguments in defence of Dendias lining up in a long tirade the Greek positions are understandable - that Greek side may have scored a point or two exposing the maximalism of the Turkish side, its weaknesses regarding the commitment to international law, and its eagerness to blend in issues such as minorities in a context that they don’t belong. 

But to what extent they will strengthen the Greek position further within the E.U, which is bent to its knee in its useless appeasement policies, as captured in the humiliation of the Michel-Leyen visit to the Palace, is an open question. It may be so that some parts of the E.U may have seen Athens as provoking the Turkish side, in a critical time, which raises Erdoğan’s unpredictability to new levels. Further, in a messy conjuncture, the spat may have been perceived broadly as “two sides debunking each other”.

In addition, Dendias falling short of raising even the most fundamental issues of human rights violations in Turkey certainly does not win any sympathies from Turkey’s struggling civil society segments, which also identify themselves with Greece as being victimised by Erdoğan’s hard-line foreign policy moves.

Pointless or not, the visit highlighted the Greek choices in approaching its neighbour, certainly with an understandable set of concerns. It is unclear, however, whether Athens understands in depth what is really impossible: A democracy, operating in a civilised manner, can neither argue nor reason with an autocracy that defies the power of law - the languages don’t match, nor does the trust get established. There have been many bitter examples of these kind of confrontations.

Perhaps, with this insight, some other democracies may approach it differently: In an unprecedented manner, Biden Administration has chosen simply to ignore, nearly excommunicate, its key ally - despite any risks. So did Mario Draghi, Prime Minister of Italy, recently  by speaking the mind of many leaders across the democratic world, drawing a connection between the word “dictator” and the name Erdoğan. He so far ignored all the attempts in Rome to retract what he said. 

What would happen if Athens had chosen the same path? Would it end up losing, or would it signal a coordination with the Biden Administration in its “slow motion, silent treatment” of a regime that torments its people and threatens the stability in the neighborhood? This is the part that shows the weakness in  Dendias’ visit.