The government is treading carefully, aiming not to further escalate tensions with Ankara after a Turkish gunboat carrying Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar sailed into Greek waters and around the Imia islets on Sunday.
The Turkish Yeni Safak conservative daily, known for its hardline support of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, later released images and video footage of “the new tension at Imia” showing Akar on the gunboat, with the islets in the background.
Greek diplomatic sources believe the incident was masterminded by Erdogan, who appears to have taken personally the Greek justice system’s decision last week not to meet Ankara’s request for the extradition of eight Turkish officers who fled to Greece in July.
Greece is concerned that Turkey’s leadership cannot fathom the fact that its requests for the officers’ extradition were impossible for the Greek courts to meet, as they were not examining the acts of the officers during the botched coup attempt in July, but whether they would get a fair trial in Turkey, which is also considering bringing back the death penalty.
Officials in Athens believe the issue will remain a source of friction with Erdogan for the foreseeable future.
On Sunday, the Greek military was put on high alert as the Turkish gunboat was escorted by several assault craft carrying commandos, which also circled the islets that brought Greece and Turkey to the brink of war exactly 21 years ago Tuesday.
Greek authorities responded to what was viewed as an outright Turkish provocation with warnings, and dispatched the Hellenic Navy’s Krataios gunboat, which escorted the Turkish flotilla out of Greece’s territorial waters.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is scheduled to speak on the phone Tuesday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and is expected to discuss Sunday’s incident and Ankara’s threats, issued by Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu last week, to scrap a bilateral deal for the readmission of migrants to Turkey.
Merkel is scheduled to visit Turkey on Thursday and Greek authorities will be keen to hear the joint statements of the two leaders in Ankara.
Erdogan has also criticized Merkel for not turning over 40 Turkish military officials who have asked for asylum in Germany.
Meanwhile, the eight Turkish servicemen in Greece appeared before an Athens court Monday to request their release. They say there is no reason for them to remain in custody after Turkey’s request for their extradition was rejected by Greece’s Supreme Court last week.
Initially, the court ordered their release from police custody. However, police decided to extend their detention order for three months – pending examination of their asylum bids – citing national security.
The men appeared in court Monday to appeal the decision and a verdict is expected in the next few days.