Greece is bracing for a prolonged period of tension with Turkey following the recent visit of PM Kyriakos Mitotakis to the U.S..
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has turned up the heat with personal attacks against Mitsotakis, increased overflights over Greek islands, and boatloads of migrants sailing towards Greece.
Over the weekend, Erdogan launched another scathing personal attack against the Greek leader. According to Turkish daily Yeni Safak, Erdogan said that “Mitsotakis is no longer my interlocutor. I only deal with people who do politics in the right way.”
The Turkish leader accused Mitsotakis of using his visit to the U.S. to “speak against Turkey in the American Congress. What is this? For the applause, he went there. Sorry. We have nothing to do with him.”
Greek government sources believe that Turkey (with its aggressive rhetoric) has created the conditions for prolonged tensions with Greece on two levels.
Turkey increases overflights over Greece’s airspace
Firstly, tensions are due to Turkish violations of Greek airspace and overflights over Greek islands. Recently, two Turkish fighter jets flew near Alexandroupolis, violating Greek airspace within 2.5 nautical miles of the northeastern city.
Greece strongly condemned the overflight, calling the incident an “unprecedented violation of national sovereignty.”
Violations of Greek airspace over the eastern Aegean islands are an almost daily occurrence. In addition, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warned last week that Ankara will dispute the sovereignty of Greek islands in the eastern Aegean if they are not demilitarized.
Violations of Greek airspace by Turkish jets were raised by Mitsotakis at his address to the U.S. Congress when he told American lawmakers that Greece “will not tolerate overflights which much stop immediately.” He added that NATO does not need another source of tension in the eastern Mediterranean as it deals with Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Migrant flows from Turkey on the rise
Secondly another point of tensions between the two countries is Turkey’s use of migrant flows to destabilize Greece. Flows from Evros have already increased with daily boats attempting to transport hundreds of migrants to the Greek islands.
Last week, the Hellenic Coast Guard prevented hundreds of potential migrants and asylum seekers from crossing the Aegean Sea into Greece from neighboring Turkey.
Five sailing boats and four dinghies that had all left the Turkish coast were intercepted in Turkish territorial waters near the Greek islands of Chios and Samos. In a statement, the Hellenic Coast Guard added: “The total number of people on board the nine boats and dinghies is said to exceed 590.”
Turkey heading for presidential elections
Government sources in Athens believe one of the reasons why Erdogan will further escalate issues is that he went out on a limb by expressing opposition to the NATO accession of Sweden and Finland and will be forced to back down. He will most likely attempt to compensate by taking a hard line against Greece.
Moreover, Erdogan is heading for presidential elections already at a disadvantage for the first time—not least due to the dire state of the Turkish economy—and is searching for distractions in the field of foreign policy.