‘Mavi Vatan’ and Turkish-Greek ties

‘Mavi Vatan’ and Turkish-Greek ties

The much-publicized military hyper-drill with the meaningful code-name “Blue Homeland” (“Mavi Vatan” in Turkish) has come to an end.

This massive naval drill -the biggest in the Turkish republic’s history- set off on Feb. 27 and  came to an end yesterday. According to multiple official statements it was a drill which extended to three seas (the Black Sea, the Aegean and the Mediterranean) with the participation of over hundred vessels of the Turkish navy accompanied by the Turkish air force, and its aim was to test the warfighting capabilities of the Turkish naval forces.

At this late stage, I think it is fair to say that there is no reason to believe at any “unfortunate incident” would occur between the Turkish navy or air force and their Greek or Greek Cypriot counterparts.

Yet, during these past days, there were many both in Greece and Cyprus who were nurturing negative expectations from this increased naval activity in the two of the three seas: The Aegean and the Mediterranean. They had already marked on their maps the likely flash points, they had already predicted the areas of breaches and violations of the EEZ of Cyprus Republic or of the territorial waters of several Greek islands in the Aegean. Pages and pages of analyses on eminent analysts and academics both in Greece and Cyprus were predicting a “foul play” on behalf of Turkey at some stage of the drill. In the case of Greece most of these wise people ended their analyses at the monotonous suggestion that “our country has to increase its military capabilities, get newer and more advanced weapons to appease the opponent”.   Needless to add that at the head of this overzealous coverage of the “Mavi Vatan” sequence, stood the TV channels both in Greek and Turkish who were quick to call the drill a “war rehearsal” and engaged in an almost daily digital war game with videos from the actual operations but with narrated commentary to fit each other’s perceptions. For the Greeks it was the drill was an act of a near aggression, for the Turks it was a projection of power, much needed against the “bad press” about Turkey especially after the attempted coup of July 2016.

As we are at the last leg of “Mavi Vatan” drill, and as none of the bad scenarios were proven true, let me go back to the statement that the former Chief of the Greek General Staff and present Minister of Defense Evangelos Apostolakis made on the eve of the drill. Questioned by Kathimerini newspaper whether “Mavi Vatan would reflect the Turkish ambitions and assertations,” he replied: “Allow me not to enter the logic of the media dimension of this drill, and to evaluate the situation on its real base. The drill is [was] a typical training activity of the Turkish armed forces. Be sure that the monitoring system of the Greek armed forces and their readiness provide full capability of following all such activities.”

And two days ago, at the closing hours of the naval activities, Apostolakis’s Turkish counterpart, Hulusi Akar, whose presence was prominent during the Blue Homeland operations, chose to send a message of cooperation and de-escalation of tension with Greece: “In the context of good neighborly relations and international law we are trying to improve the confidence building measures and bring the level of our relations to a better level…” he said.

Of course, everybody is aware of the problems between the two sides and with Cyprus that need to be solved especially on the issue of energy explorations.

But, specifically, about the current state of affairs between Turkey and Greece, the “Mavi Vatan” drill showed that all the negative expectations waited for or even hoped for by the political opponents of Alexis Tsipras’s government proved wrong. No major problem occurred, no incident, no accident. This also means that the recent visit of Tsipras to Turkey succeeded its mission: it managed to lower the bilateral tension, which was present throughout the previous year especially during the term of Panos Kammenos in the Greek Foreign Ministry. Under Akar and Apostolakis, the defense ministries in both countries kept things under control as proven during these last days. And we should be looking forward to the next step in this de-escalation process, the meeting of Tsipras and Erdogan in Thessaloniki later in spring or early summer where business people from both countries will take part and where official bilateral agreements will be signed.

Yet, before we can be sure that we are about to witness a re-start of a positive agenda in the Turkish-Greek relations, let us wait for the developments surrounding the upcoming local elections in both countries and the critical general elections in Greece due this year whose exact date has not been announced yet.

East Mediterranean,