Nikolaos Stelgias

Nikolaos Stelgias

The term "war" reappears in the Aegean

The diplomatic thermometer in Greek-Turkish relations at dangerous levels

For many years, the terms "hot incident", "war" and "tension" were absent from the forefront of Greek-Turkish relations. From the early 2000s to the mid-2015s, Greece and Turkey focused on rebuilding their diplomatic and, especially, economic relations, leaving behind their extreme nationalist and militaristic rhetoric. This effort risks being derailed by the aggressive rhetoric employed by politicians in Athens and Ankara by the end of 2022.

Ankara challenges Greek sovereignty over East Aegean islands shortly before the end of 2022 and warns of the use of new means to defend Turkey's rights in the region. These are islands that have been influenced by Greek civilization since antiquity and were incorporated into the modern Greek state in the first half of the twentieth century.

In Athens, representatives of Kyriakos Mitsotakis' government responded sternly, implying that Greece is prepared for any eventuality in the region.

In the aftermath of recent developments in Greece and Turkey, the media, which is largely controlled by the conservative governments of the two neighboring countries, has raised the prospect of a military conflict in the Aegean.

Both countries' media also recall the tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, off the coast of Cyprus, where Turkey and the Republic of Cyprus are launching new operations to explore for underwater gas reserves. Greek sources who spoke to +GercekNews in the previous hours describe this development as "extremely dangerous" adding that the Greek Armed Forces' staff has considered all options for the Aegean, including a "hot incident."

Aside from the recent troubling developments in Greek-Turkish relations, another significant development has emerged recently. In Greece, the Left warns of a dangerous course of events, urging Athens and Ankara not to be dragged to an unprecedented crisis.

"We will do whatever is necessary to defend our homeland"

"Greece is ready for a dialogue with Turkey, based on international law," Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said in a new interview with the newspaper "Proto Thema" adding that "it goes without saying that we will do whatever is necessary to defend our homeland".

Dendias stated in response to the latest developments in Greek-Turkish relations that "We hope that we never get to this point. But we must be prepared for anything. (We are witnessing) an unprecedented escalation of Turkish provocations, including a barrage of false statements, false allegations, legally unfounded accusations, and personal insults".

The Foreign Minister's new statements reverberated in Athens as yet another sign of the perilous state of affairs in the Aegean. Dendias elaborated on this development by saying "As a country, Greece has chosen not to follow its neighbor down this outrageous and dangerous downhill slide of aggressive rhetoric. We maintain our calm and the confidence that our obvious positions, based on the strength of international law and the deterrent capacity of our Armed Forces, provide us.

We have stated repeatedly and sincerely that we are ready and willing to engage in a constructive and meaningful dialogue with Turkey, which can only take place based on International Law and International Law of the Sea".

Dendias claims Ankara is not ready for dialogue, with the logic that Greece cannot be a diplomatic, political, or military equal partner with Turkey. Because of the lack of dialogue, we are currently experiencing an unprecedented situation in the Aegean, as the aggravation is so sustained and long-lasting for the first time, approaching three years. "Today, we cannot simply talk about diplomatic and political escalation because Turkey has long since gone beyond the limits," Dendias added, emphasizing Turkey's orchestrated aggression against Greece. "We are dealing with a cocktail of extreme nationalism, revisionism, and attempts to reverse reality" he said.

Aggressive rhetoric from Athens with no end

Foreign Minister Dendias is not the only member of Mitsotakis' administration to send powerful signals to Ankara. In response to Turkey's aggressive rhetoric, other Greek government ministers have spoken out against the neighboring country.

"Every day, Turkish politicians make increasingly extreme and aggressive statements. Mr. Erdogan knows that Greece is militarily strong and has strengthened its position through strong geostrategic alliances. These are the factors that cause Mr. Erdogan to lose control and attack rhetorically", Takis Theodorikakos, Minister of Civil Protection, stated a few hours ago.

According to the Greek Minister, "In Evros (Meric), (Erdogan's) plans are failing. The Greek Police, in collaboration with the Greek Army, has put an end to the illegal migration flows. The borders are inaccessible. The Governmental Council for Foreign Affairs and Defense (KYSEA) has extended the fence for an additional 140 kilometers along the Evros River. We are prepared and determined to meet any challenge on the Evros border line".

In Athens, informed sources commenting on the Mitsotakis government's new messages highlight two critical issues. First, they emphasize Athens is now concerned about the possibility of an alarming incident on a large front extending from Evros to the Aegean and off the coast of Cyprus.

According to a source with experience in defense, the "a la Turka" interpretation of international law and treaties is not exclusive to Greece. Ankara approaches other issues concerning Cyprus, Kurds in Syria, Iraq, and Armenia with similar logic.

Second, according to Greek sources, Erdogan has already instigated a crisis in the Aegean, despite all notions of international law and warnings from the EU and the US. Ankara's actions would create dangerous instability in the region and within NATO. An attempt to violate Greece's sovereign rights, such as with a naval blockade of islands or drilling on the potentially Greek continental shelf, is not ruled out. Greek sources warn that from now on even the most outrageous scenario cannot be ruled out.

Differentiated attitude by the Greek Left

At a time when Greece and Turkey's governments are considering the most pessimistic scenarios in Greek-Turkish relations, the Greek Left is differentiating its stance and warning about the consequences of the new tension. The case of the "Mera 25" party, led by former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, is typical.

Varoufakis' party issued a warning a few days ago stating that "The deterioration of Greek-Turkish relations continues. Erdogan’s regime is stepping up its efforts to force Greece's government into bilateral talks, which it will then scuttle by putting everything on the table. This strategy, which we are being dragged into by our ostensible 'allies' combined with the Mitsotakis government's complacency, is dangerous and will inevitably lead to new tensions".

"A Greek invitation addressed to all the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean, with the only issue on the agenda being the joint recording of our differences regarding the delineation of maritime zones, will force Erdogan either to come to such an International Regional Conference, where he cannot put all his ambitions, or not to come, revealing his own intransigence," according to "Mera 25".

Apart from "Mera25," other Greek Left parties emphasize the importance of dialogue in dealing with the new Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean tensions. Simultaneously, the Greek Left complains about the role of the Great Powers in the conflict and the impact of international developments on Greek-Turkish relations.

*Dr Nikolaos Stelgias was born in Istanbul. He is an independent researcher, writer, historian and journalist. His doctorate is in the field of the modern Turkish political system (Panteion University, 2011). His latest book “The Ailing Turkish Democracy” was published by the Cambridge Scholars Publication in 2020. Dr. Stelgias was a correspondent of the newspaper "Kathimerini (Cyprus edition)" for Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot community from 2009 to 2021. Currently, Dr. Stelgias works at the Cyprus News Agency. Dr. Stelgias publishes in Turkish news articles and analyses on Cyprus and Greece.

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