US military bases in Greece, and in particular the naval base at Souda, Crete are of critical importance for intelligence gathering as tensions escalate over Ukraine notes John Sitilides, a government affairs and geopolitical risk specialist in an exclusive interview to Greek Reporter.
In the event of military escalation in Ukraine one would expect to see ramped-up U.S. military operations out of Souda Bay and Greece’s army base at Alexandroupolis under the terms of the current U.S.-Greece Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement.
United States Naval Support Activity (NSA) Souda Bay provides operational support to the US, allied, and coalition forces deployed within the US European Command (EUCOM) / US Central Command (CENTCOM) / US Africa Command (AFRICOM) AOR.
It delivers critical logistical support and services to the US and allied ships, as well as aircraft, operating in or transiting the eastern Mediterranean. It is home to approximately 750 assigned military and civilian personnel. The base ensures the combat readiness of assigned units, including ships, aircraft, and detachments.
Intelligence-gathering missions over eastern Ukraine
Sitilidis notes that the American aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman arrived in Souda Bay in late December for previously planned regional exercises of the U.S. Sixth Fleet “to maintain maritime stability and security, and defend U.S., allied and partner interests in Europe and Africa,” according to the U.S. Navy.
“Using open-source geospatial mapping data and flight-tracking software, we observed RC-135V reconnaissance aircraft flying from Souda Bay to conduct intelligence-gathering missions over eastern Ukraine, approaching to within fifty miles of territory occupied by Russian-backed forces in the Donbas region,” Sitilides tells Greek Reporter.
He adds that similar intelligence-gathering operations launched at Souda Bay in mid-February patrolled the Black Sea off the coast of Crimea, as well as near Ukraine’s border with Belarus.
“We have also observed EP-3 electronic signal intelligence missions flown out of Souda Bay to over the Black Sea, in position to monitor Russian Navy vessels, including six amphibious landing ships that arrived in early February, as well as to assess wider Russian military activities in Crimea.”
Sitilides says that the U.S. armed forces from Souda also monitor Russian operations in Syria and the 1,200 Russian private military contractors operating in Libya.
He adds that Russia is conducting an array of military exercises in the eastern Mediterranean involving all Russian fleets from the Pacific to the Atlantic, drawing on 10,000 servicemen, 140 warships and dozens of warplanes, as well as hypersonic cruise missiles.
“We expect U.S. and NATO air and naval assets to continue monitoring these and all other Russian and other major power military operations throughout the eastern Mediterranean region,” the Greek-American analyst says.
Sitilides drew on Amb. Pyatt to also describe the value of Alexandroupolis, which “has emerged as a key logistics node, especially for the (U.S.) army in Europe and for moving forces and resources into and out of NATO’s southeastern flank.”
Could the US bases in Greece become targets of Russian reprisals?
“Only in a most extremely unlikely scenario, as Greece is a member of the NATO alliance, which would respond forcefully to any Russian attack on Greece or any other member of the alliance,” Sitilides says.
He notes that Vladimir Putin could launch a powerful disinformation campaign within Greece to sow political and social discord over the Ukraine standoff, if he believed it could weaken the Greek government’s resolve to stand by its alliance commitments and rupture Greece-NATO relations.
“Even as one doubts that Russia would militarily attack Greece proper or any of its bases, it is naïve to underestimate Putin’s skill at exploiting and exacerbating his adversaries’ perceived political and diplomatic weaknesses and vulnerabilities.”
John Sitilides is a government affairs and geopolitical risk specialist, and diplomacy consultant under contract to the U.S. State Department. As Southern Europe Regional Coordinator at the Foreign Service Institute, the department’s diplomacy academy, he organizes and directs professional development training programs for American diplomats stationed in Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus.
Read the next part of our interview with John Sitilides below: