Alexis Papachelas ALEXIS PAPACHELAS

Not a game

COMMENT

TAGS: Diplomacy, Politics

Greece’s relations with Turkey require deft handling and caution. Responsibility for this, of course, lies with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. One does not need to be a geostrategic analyst to see that things aren’t going at all well at the moment.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is out of control. He is not willing to listen to anyone and has thrown himself into risky gambits. Meanwhile, the US under President Barack Obama has essentially been absent from the region and is seemingly reluctant to play its traditional role. Even if Washington did want to step in, I’m not sure that Erdogan would take a call from the US leader.

The rest of Europe is treating Erdogan with a mix of panic and awe. Deep down European leaders know that they don’t have any really effective ways of putting pressure on Turkey. Erdogan knows this and is acting accordingly.

That said, our fellow Europeans are to some extent ignorant of Greek-Turkish disputes, and this carries some risk. They have no in-depth knowledge of the issues dividing the two Aegean neighbors and their response is along the following lines: “Well, if you have differences, why don’t you just sit around a table and talk them through?” Indeed, judging from the manner in which European leaders have dealt with the ongoing refugee and migrant crisis, I don’t even want to know how they would deal with a Greek-Turkish crisis.

All that is happening as Greece is going through one of its worst periods. The volatile regional environment combined with Greece’s image of a powerless state inspires little optimism for the future.

Some observers suggest that Greece has some strong cards up its sleeve, a reference to Israel and Russia. Perhaps they know something that remains elusive to us mortals. However, if one thing is certain, it is that changing a country’s foreign policy dogma and interpreting international alliances or the balance of power must come with a good deal of caution and restraint. This not a game.

Every time Greek leaders have made a mistake, the country has paid a heavy price. Every time they have done a good job of figuring out who our allies are and gauging outside developments, the country has moved forward.

These are crucial times for the broader region. It is crucial that we play our cards right and avoid any damage to our national sovereignty. Fortunately Greece can depend on some people who have in-depth knowledge of the issues and who combine determination with wisdom.

I once asked Tsipras, while he was still in the opposition, who he would call first call in case of an incident in the Aegean. “Surely that would be Erdogan,” he said. I was not sure what to make of his answer back then and I would be interested to know what his response would be today.

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