Greeks redouble months-long diplomatic efforts to persuade Germany to stop selling submarines to Turkey, saying planned sale of half a dozen submarines will shift the balance of naval power in the eastern Mediterranean.
Greece and Turkey have been locked in a feud over the territorial status of Mediterranean real estate and waters – and more importantly, the oil and gas reserves below. The energy potential of the Eastern Mediterranean has raised the stakes and attracted neighboring powers.
Turkey has said it will continue energy exploration in the disputed waters of the eastern Mediterranean, where last August two Greek and Turkish frigates collided in a volatile naval standoff, bringing the two members of the NATO near a military clash.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday, during a visit to the Turkish province of Sakarya, in the northwestern Black Sea: “Whatever our rights, we will take them one way or another. . And we will conduct our oil exploration operations in the Eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus and all those seas. “
The first of six German-designed submarines destined for Turkey was floated from its dock earlier this year and is expected to join the Turkish fleet next year. Five more Reis-class submarines are expected to follow over the next few years in a deal worth around $ 4 billion.
Greece last month asked the European Union to impose an arms embargo on Turkey, but Germany, Spain and Italy rejected the request.
A “proactive” foreign policy
“Greece is embroiled in remarkably rapid geopolitical changes in the eastern Mediterranean,” according to Vassilis Ntousas, senior international relations policy adviser at the Foundation for Progressive European Studies, a think tank in Brussels.
“Athens has responded to the region’s explosive mix of competing maritime interests, energy demands and military exercises by pursuing an increasingly proactive foreign policy,” he added. In an article published last week, he said: “Greece has reached out to [EU] Member States which traditionally take a more conciliatory approach towards Turkey, such as Spain, Italy and Malta.
Naval tensions have recently eased in the eastern Mediterranean, where Greece and Turkey are also in a long-standing dispute over the status of Cyprus, following several rounds of face-to-face talks between the Turkish and Greek foreign ministers. . Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Erdogan also met on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels in June, both pledging not to hold naval exercises in the coming months.
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Kathimerini, the Greek daily published in Athens, said Erdogan “seemed keen not to stir up tensions,” adding: “A calm tourist season is as important for Turkey as it is for Greece. On top of that, Erdogan wants to smooth out relations with the European Union and the United States.
Erdogan angered NATO allies by purchasing Russian surface-to-air missiles and intervening in Syria and Libya.
But behind the scenes, Greece and Turkey maneuvered to strengthen their diplomatic positions – as well as their armed forces. “The Turkish president is trying to appear more useful to the West. But its broader political goals have not changed, ”said Dimitar Bechev, author of a forthcoming book on Erdogan.
He said Erdogan was engaged in “a multi-month charm offensive” aimed at rekindling his relations with the West and the Biden administration. The Turkish president met with the American leader last month.
“The overtures to Biden are broadly in line with Erdogan’s wish to ‘have his cake and eat it.’ That is, he wants to maintain reasonably good relations with the United States, despite the anti -toxic Americanism that reigns in the Turkish media and the general public, and clinging to NATO, while teaming up with Russia on issues where their interests coincide, ”he added in a commentary for the Royal United Services Institute, a UK defense think tank.
And Turkey, NATO’s second army, has embarked on a buying spree, as has Greece.
Greece announced in December that it was doubling its annual defense spending to $ 6.6 billion, and it signed a $ 3 billion deal in January with France to buy 18 Rafale fighter jets, including 12 d ‘opportunity.
Turkey is awaiting the completion of a light aircraft carrier designed by Spain.
German-designed submarines are equipped with air independent propulsion, or AIP, allowing them to dispense with the air supply normally required by diesel engines. They can stay underwater for three weeks with low noise emissions. Naval experts say they are well suited to the shallow waters of the eastern Mediterranean and could be armed with medium-range anti-ship missiles.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias expressed deep disappointment last month when the ruling coalition in Germany blocked efforts in the German parliament by opposition lawmakers to stop sales of submarines. “Prime Minister Mitsotakis and I have repeatedly spoken to almost everyone in Germany about the need to maintain a balance in the Aegean Sea,” Dendias told reporters. He warned that the submarine deal could tip the balance in the Aegean Sea in Ankara’s favor.