Greek Defence Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos says all statements made by officials from neighboring Turkey are about war, Vice News reported on Wednesday.
“Whenever a top official from Turkey makes a statement, it is a statement that involves talk of war,” said Panagiotopoulos. “War in Syria. War in the Middle East. War in the Aegean. Now if that isn’t aggressive rhetoric, then I’m wondering what type of rhetoric it is.”
Tensions between Greece and Turkey are not new, but the discovery of natural gas and oil deposits has brought them to a boil just when Turkey’s apparent drift away from NATO is causing alarm in Washington and Athens, according to Vice reporter Aris Roussinos.
Greece, Cyprus, and Israel have been conducting joint military drills to enhance cooperation, while also pushing forward with plans for a pipeline to transport the newly discovered oil and gas to the European Union, reducing Europe’s dependence on Russia, according to Roussinos.
“It’s impossible to divorce these moves from the broader strategic picture of regional powers unsettled by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s bellicose rhetoric and growing image as a source of regional instability,” said Roussinos.
Turkey has dispatched drill ships, escorted by warships, into the waters around Cyprus, which is a source of growing anxiety for Athens, according to Roussinos.
“We want peace in the region. We do not wish any kind of conflict. But at the same time, in order to maintain the status quo as it is, we are taking a very confident and resolute position against Turkish behavior,” Panagiotopoulos told Vice, saying his forces are ready for any development. “There is no other way.”
Turkey’s recent purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile system led to its expulsion from the U.S.’ F-35 fighter jet programme. Yet Erdoğan seems unfazed and has talked of buying Russia’s SU-57 jet and continued his threats to attack U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in northeast Syria.
Thus, the growing defense relationship between the United States and Greece, which includes donation of equipment, enhanced training, and growing use of facilities like the base at Souda Bay in Crete, could be seen as a potential fallback option if the U.S. relationship with Turkey is damaged beyond repair, according to Roussinos.
“Greece and the United States share a strong interest in doing everything possible to see that Turkey remains anchored in the West, anchored in Western institutions,” Geoffrey Pyatt, U.S. ambassador to Greece, told Vice. “The United States hopes very much that Turkey will return to being a stabilising factor as opposed to a destabilizing factor in the wider neighborhood.”