In the latest sign of tension between Greece and Turkey, Turkish President Erdogan criticized Greece’s weapons program on his return from a trip to Azerbaijan. He intended to address this issue in the upcoming meeting with the Greek Prime Minister.
Erdogan stated, “After the Turkish elections, Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis called me and congratulated me. If there is a possibility of a meeting at the NATO meeting in Lithuania (July 11 and 12), we will not avoid this meeting. We are two neighboring countries. If there are no ambiguous messages, we are not seeking to increase enmity but to strengthen friendships. In my meeting with Mitsotakis, I will tell him, Mr. Prime Minister, to stop buying weapons. For what purpose do you do these actions? America gives you weapons non-stop. Why do you buy it? Do they give you these weapons for free? The time has come to stop the weapons effort. Where do you intend to go with these weapons? We will probably talk about these topics. But know that we seek to reduce our enemies, not to increase them.”
A day after Erdogan’s speech, Mitsotakis, the head of the conservative Neo-Democracy Party, noted that “I will meet with Erdogan on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Lithuania in September, and I will emphasize to him that even if the two countries cannot resolve their differences, they can de-escalate tensions in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean. Türkiye cannot dictate to Greece what weapons it can buy. Greece must strengthen its armed forces because Türkiye is our biggest and geopolitically unpredictable neighbor.”
Greece claims that this country has managed to change the balance in terms of the strength of the armed forces. In the field of air power, things have changed entirely since four years ago. Türkiye will definitely not buy F-35 fighters, but Greece has officially received the approval of the US to buy them.
In recent months, Greek officials at all levels have expressed their satisfaction with the reduction of tension in bilateral relations with Türkiye, and they seem satisfied with the existing atmosphere in recent months. In the past months, Greece has not seen any violation of its airspace by Turkish fighter jets. At least in official positions, this country extends a hand of friendship to Türkiye, but at the same time, it strengthens its armed forces. It will protect its borders but seek to create regional alliances to strengthen Greece’s geopolitical position. Although, in the opinion of the Greek authorities, there is no need for Greece and Türkiye to live in constant tension; however, they have no doubts about the possibility of changing Türkiye’s approach towards Greece.
From Greece’s point of view, there is only one difference between the two countries: the delimitation of the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean. According to Greece, the parties should agree that this issue should be resolved only within the framework of international law and good neighborly relations, and no government official can raise other issues outside the agenda of bilateral relations on the negotiation table. Issues such as the demilitarization of the islands and sovereignty and sovereign rights fall outside the scope of discussion with Türkiye.
After winning the elections, Erdogan is trying to show a “good image” of himself to the West, and in this regard, he will try to convince the Westerners that relations with Greece are on the path of full normalization. But in Greece, there is a theory that Türkiye’s long-term strategic goals will never change, so they continue to strengthen their armed forces while maintaining their vigilance. Although Greece welcomes the opportunities to reach an understanding following the recent de-escalation, the red lines of its leaders are well known.
Greece and Türkiye are fiercely competing in the military field. The Greek army is developing and strengthening itself and has even ordered the purchase of “F-35” fighter jets from the US, and if they receive them, the Turkish Air Force fleet will fall behind its usual rival. Greece has recently ordered 24 French-made Rafale fighters, six new and 18 second-hand ones, and three French frigates.
On the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne between Greece and Türkiye, Greece believes that the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne is an excellent opportunity to reaffirm the validity and stability framework it has created because this treaty is still the pillar of peace in the region. According to the fundamental principles of international law, treaties that define borders between countries do not expire. In addition, they cannot be revised unilaterally without obtaining the consent of other parties. The final settlement of border issues is the cornerstone of this agreement.
Following the victory of Turkish President Erdogan in the country’s elections, Greece is preparing to resume communication channels with the Turkish authorities. If the stagnation of military activities and the avoidance of large maneuvers continue until September 15, there has been no tension in the Aegean for more than seven months, and this is considered a suitable ground for the resumption of talks between the two countries. Greece has reacted positively to the results of this Turkish election. But at the same time, it considers its main goal to further develop relations between the two countries based on international law and to ensure regional peace and stability as well as good neighborly relations.
It is expected that after the formation of the new government in Greece, in the first phase, the dialogues will be planned on confidence-building measures between the defense ministries and the new round of groundbreaking talks between the two countries foreign ministries.
The evidence shows that the cooperation between Greece and Türkiye has the support of the United States. The US plans to export its liquefied gas to countries outside the region through Greek and Turkish terminals. Türkiye and Greece have differences in the fields of energy exploration, the militarization of some islands in the Aegean Sea, and asylum seekers. The sides also closely monitor each other’s military reinforcements. In recent years, Türkiye accuses Greece of deploying weapons in the Aegean islands.