“Rogue” Turkey the biggest problem for Greece – Academic

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s plans to establish Turkish regional hegemony are a major problem for Greece and its government, University of Athens professor Aristides Hatzis told Bloomberg in a piece published on Monday.

“The worst problem for (Greek Prime Minister) Tsipras, for the government, but also for Greece is the evolving ‘rogueness’ of Turkey,” Bloomberg quoted Hatzis as saying in the piece, which examines the challenges faced by Tsipras as he prepares for elections due by Oct. 2019.

“Diminishing American influence on the region is a destabilizing factor and the stakes are very high,” added Hatzis, who said that Erdoğan views Greece as part of an overall plan for regional hegemony, rather than a primary concern.

Relations between the two neighbouring countries have been decidedly tense since Erdoğan declared during a trip to Athens last December that the Lausanne Treaty, which demarcated most of modern Turkey’s borders, was due a revision.

Given the decades of disagreement between Ankara and Athens over disputed islands in the Aegean Sea, the comment was naturally not welcomed by Greece, which dismissed talk of revising the treaty.

A bout of heightened military activity on and over the Aegean ensued, with numerous dogfights between Greek and Turkish jets reported, one of which last week resulted in a Greek fighter crashing.

Encounters between Greek and Turkish vessels have been equally charged, with a Turkish patrol boat recorded ramming a Greek Coastguard vessel near a pair of disputed Aegean islets, and reports of massive Turkish naval exercises in the area. Last week, a Greek flag was mysteriously planted on an islet near the Turkish coast, and the Greek defence minister was blocked attempting to lay a wreath on the disputed islets.

Meanwhile, two Greek soldiers languish in Turkish prison after crossing the Turkish border in early March. Turkey is preparing to put the pair on trial, which the Greeks say is a politically motivated move unnecessary for what they insist was a mistake due to poor weather conditions.

Tsipras has accused Turkey of keeping the pair as “hostages” to try to exchange them for eight Turkish servicemen who sought refuge in Greece after the failed July 2016 coup attempt.

While the likelihood of deliberate escalation is low, there is a risk of a conflict between the two countries being sparked accidentally, Thanos Dokos, director-general of the Athens-based Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy told Bloomberg.

This danger, said Dokos, has only been increased by the lack of experienced officers in the Turkish Armed Forces after a far reaching purge after the 2016 coup attempt. Added to this, the “shrinking U.S., EU and NATO influence over Ankara make outside mediation less certain in the event of an incident,” Bloomberg quoted him as saying.