It was billed as a promising breakthrough — Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meeting last month and agreeing to try to resolve their countries’ age-old differences, keeping, at least, a lid on tensions as the conflict in Ukraine rages.
But on Thursday, as armed Turkish jets streamed into Greek airspace, conducting more than 125 unauthorized flights within 24 hours, Athens retaliated.
Greece revoked Turkey’s planned participation in a May 9, Greece-hosted NATO air drill known as “Tiger Meet,” saying Turkey was “neither an ally, nor a friend.” Greece also suspended confidence-building negotiations due to begin between Greek and Turkish diplomats next month.
The snub came as the Greek Foreign Ministry summoned Ankara’s top envoy late Wednesday to protest the record number of violations over the Aegean Sea. He was called in again on Thursday as Turkish warplanes buzzed over a rash of popular holiday islands, including Rhodes and Samos, staging dangerous aerial dogfights.
Greece and Turkey, both members of NATO, have long been at odds over air and sea rights in the oil- and minerals-rich Aegean.
The disagreement has resulted in near-daily air force patrols and interception missions, mostly in disputed airspace around Greek islands that Turkey has repeatedly claimed as its own, denying any sort of violation.
Pundits, politicians and military officials here are now troubled by the sudden increase in dangerous overflights, especially after last month’s promising meeting between Mitsotakis and Erdogan.
Andreas Loverdos, a lawmaker and member of the Greek Foreign Affairs Committee, said nothing in reality had changed vis-a-vis Turkey’s stance toward Greece. He said Turkey had eased off what he called its provocative stance because it was trying to mend relations with Washington and play a constructive role in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
As that has not panned out, Loverdos said, Turkey is reverting to past patterns of behavior.
Turkey’s ties with the U.S. government have been strained since punitive sanctions were imposed on Ankara during the Trump administration for Turkey’s purchase of a missile system from Russia, a breach of NATO rules.
Ankara is now seeking to purchase combat F-16 aircraft from the United States — a bid that Democratic U.S. Representative Frank Pallone and more than 50 other lawmakers have urged the Biden administration to reject, citing what they say is Erdogan’s lack of commitment to NATO and his “vast human rights abuses.”
Whether the purchase will go through remains unclear.
More war games expected
Until then, and as long as Turkey’s relations remain troubled with the West, military experts here warn that Greece should be on high alert for more war games in contested areas in the Aegean.
Retired Greek Air Force Commander Evangelos Georgousis said the Turkish flights weren’t new but hadn’t previously been seen in such large numbers. The fear, he said, is that anything can go wrong. The only thing missing in these midair chases, Georgousis said, is the act of pressing the button to unlock missiles against the enemy target. Everything else is as real and warlike as can be, he said, and it’s dangerous.
Contesting claims to the Aegean brought Greece and Turkey to a dangerous standoff more than two decades ago, forcing the United States to intervene to pull back both sides from the brink of war.
Greece has urged Ankara to take the dispute to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, but Turkey has repeatedly refused.