The Turkish president’s promise to cut all ties with the Greek prime minister – and the suggestion that Kyriakos Mitsotakis was dishonorable and lacking in character – have raised fears of renewed tensions between the two NATO members.
Calling off talks between the countries, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused Mitsotakis of deliberately opposing Turkey when he addressed the US Congress during a visit to Washington last week.
“This year we were supposed to have a strategic council meeting,” Erdoğan said in a televised address on Monday. “From now on, there is no one called Mitsotakis in my book. I will never agree to meet him because we [only] walk the same path as politicians who keep their promises, who have character and who are honorable.
The decision to freeze Greek-Turkish contacts ends what many had hoped would be a period of détente between perennial enemies after Mitsotakis held talks with Erdoğan in Istanbul in March.
The seemingly constructive meeting, conducted over lunch, led the pair to stress the need for “increased cooperation” to improve strained bilateral relations given the war in Ukraine.
But the Turkish leader, who will stand for re-election next year, said Mitsotakis had not kept his part of the deal.
“We had agreed not to include third countries in our disputes,” he said. “Despite this, last week he traveled to the United States and spoke to Congress and warned them not to give out F-16s. [fighter planes] ours.”
In his landmark speech on May 17, the Greek leader refrained from mentioning Turkey by name, but warned Washington of the perils involved in fomenting instability in the region if arms-buying deals are followed. adopted. His centre-right administration announced a sevenfold increase in defense spending from a year ago amid increased air incursions by Turkish aircraft.
“The last thing NATO needs at a time when our goal is to help Ukraine defeat Russian aggression is another source of instability on NATO’s southeastern flank,” he said. Mitsotakis in Congress. “And I ask you to take this into account when making defense procurement decisions regarding the Eastern Mediterranean.”
On Tuesday, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said Athens would resist “falling into the trap” of an unnecessary escalation of tensions. “There is no need to respond in the same way,” he said, expressing his disbelief at the Turkish leader’s reaction to a speech which he said did not deviate from any of the positions he Greece has long defended.
The two countries have been at odds for decades over maritime and energy issues, air and sea rights in the Aegean Sea, the divided island of Cyprus and, more recently, migration.
Friction over rival claims to offshore gas reserves in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean has brought them to the brink of war in 2020.
But a strategic shift in US regional relations has also played a role in creating disquiet within Turkey’s military and political establishment.
Washington’s growing desire to see Greece as a “reliable” partner – expanding its military presence in the country and signing an unprecedentedly far-reaching mutual defense agreement with Athens – has angered Ankara, analysts say, noting the Erdoğan’s unpredictability.
On Monday, the Turkish leader raised the issue saying, “Right now there are 10 bases in Greece. What is the reason? Who are they threatening? Why are these bases being built in Greece? »
Turkish media went further, predicting that a military attack would be launched from one of the facilities.
Kostas Ifantis, a specialist in Turkish affairs who heads the Institute of International Relations at Panteion University in Athens, said that with a now “stillborn” détente, the coming months could be a roller coaster.
“I think we are now looking at a short-term communications breakdown,” he said, predicting increased Turkish activity in and around Cyprus. “Mitsotakis’ visit to Washington is widely seen in Ankara as having undermined any rapprochement efforts. Turkey realizes that the United States has gradually reduced its strategic dependence on Turkish soil by increasing its military presence in Greece.
For the first time in nearly a year, the Greek coastguard said this week that it had stopped around 600 people from crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey, raising fears that Erdoğan is using the large population of refugees from the country to stir up tensions.
“Erdoğan is an unpredictable and dangerous neighbor. He armed refugees in 2020 and he could do it again,” said Pavlos Eleftheriadis, professor of public law at the University of Oxford. “But the Greek government is also reacting in a seemingly illegal way by carrying out illegal pushbacks of asylum seekers in Evros. [River] and the Aegean Sea.