Greece must act to counter Turkey’s growing Balkan influence - journalist

Turkey’s funding of major projects across the Balkans and its efforts to strengthen the role of Islam in the region are part of a well-thought out strategy to increase Turkey’s influence, wrote journalist Tom Ellis in an opinion piece published in in Greek daily Kathimerini on Tuesday.  

Further evidence of Turkey’s increasing influence in the Balkans is provided by the dramatic increase in its trade with countries in the Western Balkans over the last 15 years, from £350 million to $2.5 billion dollars.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is therefore, Ellis suggests, “weaving a Balkan web that aims at changing the region’s geopolitical balance,”

Greece cannot afford to stand by as Turkish expands its influence and must “reassess its priorities, wrap up any loose ends, pursue solutions on any open issues and build further on the partnerships it has already developed in the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean.”

By implementing such measures and with the support of the United States and European Union, Greece can recover the ground it lost due to economic problems and act as a “pillar of stability” in the region.

One immediate challenge confronting Greece’s increasingly fractious relations with Turkey concerns the fate of 2 Greek soldiers held by Turkey since early March after reportedly straying across the border in bad weather.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is expected to raise the issue of their fate when he meets Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Brussels on Thursday during the scheduled NATO summit.

On Monday, Tsipras characterized the situation of the 2 soldiers as an “unjustified detention without charges.”

Greek government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos also said on Tuesday that Tsipras will discuss the soldiers' plight, not just with Erdoğan, but in all his meetings at the NATO summit and also refer to it in his public statements, as part of an effort to get NATO to push Turkey to secure their release.