Things didn’t look promising for Greece in regard to Turkey’s recent expansionist moves during NATO’s 70th anniversary gathering of member state leaders this week in London. Both U.S. President Donald Trump and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg praised the importance of Turkey as a most valuable ally and no word was uttered about Turkey’s illegal actions of late.
At the same time, Erdogan assumed his usual arrogant stance in his meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, repeating his talk of “Turkish rights in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean.”
Erdogan stated he is determined to continue with his illegal bilateral agreement with Libya which recreates the maritime borders of the two countries — although they don’t even share a common sea border. He also stated that his drillships will continue explorations in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone.
In a few words, the diplomatic efforts of the Greek Prime Minister were in vain.
It has been a long time since Erdogan replaced diplomacy with threats against his neighbors Greece and Cyprus, while continuously flexing his military muscle in the Eastern Mediterranean by drilling in Cyprus’ EEZ with the support of his Navy or by violating Greece’s airspace on a regular basis.
Or by (essentially) invading Syria.
When the Greek Prime Minister complained about Ankara’s provocative and illegal moves to the U.S. President, he listened but never commented. His silence might as well be taken as an answer: No matter what Turkey does, even if it is against another NATO ally, the U.S. will keep a neutral stance.
Former national security adviser John Bolton has alleged that Trump is being motivated primarily by personal or financial interests in his dealings with Turkey.
But for Greece, the reason Trump is so friendly with Erdogan does not really matter. What matters is that Turkey enjoys a favorable treatment from the White House. Further proof is the apparent “pardon” it was given by both NATO and the United States for purchasing the Russian S-400 missile system.
This favorable treatment has allowed Erdogan free rein to disregard international law, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Treaty of Lausanne and any other Western institution in his obvious ambition to expand Turkey’s borders on land and sea.
So Erdogan feels all-powerful now and has kicked diplomacy to the curb. His aggressive rhetoric escalates as if he is determined to take what he thinks is his own by force. And when he says “let’s sit at the table to discuss all these issues,” he means that he expects to be given what he wants, or else.
The reason Greece should never sit at the negotiating table with Turkey is simply because its neighbor does not believe in the rules of negotiation.
For instance, at home Erdogan has often told his constituents that since some Greek islands are within “hearing distance” from Turkey, they should belong to Turkey. This is what Erdogan perceives as logic and right, and this is why he believes that the Treaty of Lausanne, or international law, simply does not count.
The “Blue Homeland” map which Erdogan has arbitrarily drawn is proof of this mindset. It includes parts of Greece and the Balkans, more than half of the Greek islands and a big chunk of Syria.
True, it’s a politicking move for internal consumption, but seeing the tolerance shown by the current U.S. leadership and NATO, he has already started trying to make this outlandish plan a reality.
Since there appear to be no diplomatic means to stop Turkish expansionism, what Greece needs to do at this point is enhance its military defense as much as possible.
If, indeed, Turkey puts into effect its agreement with Libya and claims part of Greece’s EEZ south of Crete by beginning to explore for hydrocarbons, then the Hellenic Navy must respond. It should be noted here that on Friday, Greece expelled the Libyan ambassador for failing to divulge the content of the Turkey-Libya MoU as requested by Greece’s foreign ministry.
“We are preparing for all eventualities on all levels,” Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panayiotopoulos told Skai News on Thursday, without elaboration. Admiral Nikos Tsounis, the Hellenic Navy’s Chief of Staff, added: “We shall not wait for anyone to come and help us. Whatever we do, we shall do alone.”
Besides strengthening its military force, Greece must also rally its allies. The EU has condemned Turkish actions, but this is not enough. The true allies at the moment appear to be France, Israel and (a reluctant) Egypt.
At this moment Athens is just waiting to see what else Erdogan might have up his sleeve, and what other country might join this informal alliance.