Greece’s agreement with France: Will it raise tensions with Turkey?

Greece’s agreement with France: Will it raise tensions with Turkey?

Since the announcement of the agreement of a strategic partnership for cooperation in defense and security with the French, Greeks feel safer. But at a high cost.

For the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the $5 billion Greece will pay for the three state-of-the-art Belhara frigates and three corvettes purchased from France was well worth it. It will bring the country’s military capabilities, he says, to a suitable level against the continuous pressure from Turkey in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean.

The deal that was announced last week and was ratified yesterday by the Greek parliament had an important strategic side to it. Under the deal, France would come to Greece’s military aid if requested and if it is under threat.

The realization that a big country and the strongest military power in the EU, such as France, would come to Greece’s aid if it is in real danger by the Turks was comforting for a lot of people, although they were aware that the cost would trickle down as higher taxes for them.

It came at a good time too for domestic political balances. Mitsotakis’s government was already losing points because of a badly managed vaccination campaign. An insistent anti-vaccination movement had spoiled the government’s efforts to bring the numbers of vaccinated citizens to a satisfactory level. The number of Covid cases in Greece is still high, so is the number of deaths. And winter is around the corner.

The deal with France came at the end of a relatively calm summer with Turkey; no Turkish drilling ships in the east Med., like last year, although verbal exchanges between the two sides continued unabated.

But it came with a condition. Yes, France would come to the aid of Greece under threat but, likewise, Greece would have to offer aid to France in military operations in sub-Saharan territories where France has strategic interests. That was not something that Greeks saw favorably. There is also a vague point, that has not been cleared, yet. Would France’s aid cover a problem that might occur in Greece’s EEZ and continental shelf? The opposition parties were not convinced by the government’s explanation and voted against the deal.

For the last week, since the announcement of the Greek-French military and strategic agreement, Ankara has increased its pressure on Greece on many fronts. One of them is the islands of the Eastern Aegean. In his letter, dated Sept. 30, to the general secretary of the U.N., Mr. Feridun Sinirlioglu raises again the issue of the militarization of the Aegean islands. “Article 12 of the Lausanne Peace Treaty unequivocally establishes a clear connection between sovereignty and demilitarization for all the Eastern Aegean islands,” he writes and claims that Greece’s legal position is weak and the political allegations made against Turkey’s position “reflect a state of mind which is disconnected from reality.”

The tone of the letter is indicative of the change of mood in Ankara. Characteristically, the 63rd round of exploratory talks between Greece and Turkey, which took place in Ankara on Wednesday, Oct. 6, was a tense occasion, and at the time this column was written, no joint statement had been issued. Are we heading for a rough winter?