Turkey wary of NATO, U.S. plans for increased bases on Greece’s Aegean islands - expert

A recent statement of the Turkish Foreign Ministry accusing Greece of drawing NATO into Aegean disputes conceals Ankara’s growing concerns that NATO and the United States may be planning to increase the number of bases in Greece and its Aegean islands, defence policy expert John C. K. Daly said on Friday.

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a written statement on May 12 that the NATO Activity in the Aegean Sea should be carried out in a manner that does not prejudice NATO Allies’ national policies.

Aksoy said that, in line with the collective understanding in NATO, “it had been agreed that the military vessels operating in the Aegean Sea under the NATO Activity would refrain from visiting the Aegean islands under demilitarised status according to international law, including with the aim of refuelling or port visits.”

Aksoy was referring to Dodecanese Islands which Turkey says have a demilitarised status according to the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923 and the Treaty of Paris of 1947

Greece says Turkey was not a signatory of the Paris Peace Treaty and that the demilitarised status lost its raison d’être with the creation of NATO and the Warsaw Pact.

Aksoy’s remarks on the Dodecanese Islands mask a broader anxiety in Ankara that NATO and the United States may be planning to deepen their military presence in the eastern Mediterranean to include more bases in Greece and its Aegean islands, Daly said in an article for Eurasia Daily Monitor.

Turkish media in 2015 followed closely discussions in Greece over a potential U.S. or NATO base in the Dodecanese Islands, following former Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos’ visit to Karpathos, the second-largest island in the archipelago, Daly said.

Kammenos’ visit to Washington in October 2018 rekindled Turkey’s concerns, according to Daly, as the Greek press reported that the defence minister proposed the United States to expand its military presence beyond Souda, in Crete, to the cities of Larissa and Volos, in Thessaly, and Alexandroupolis, in Thrace.

Washington has also stepped up efforts to protect its security interests in the Middle East, the Balkans, and the North Africa by joining the Eastern Mediterranean Partnership (EMP) of Israel, Greece, and Cyprus.

“Ankara’s response to Athens’ cozying up to Washington—particularly as Turkey’s own relations with the United States have continued to deteriorate—has been to demonstrate its own military prowess,” Daly said. A day after Aksoy’s statement, Turkey started its largest military exercise in its history in the Mediterranean, Aegean and Black Sea.

The relations between Ankara and Washington has been strained in the last couple of months over Turkey’s plans to acquire Russian S-400 missile systems. The two NATO allies have also problems in ties over other issues, such as U.S. support to Kurdish militia in Syria.

Yet, “President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government presumably has no wish to see its positions in NATO and Washington diminished and supplanted by Greece,” Daly said.

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