Relations between Athens and Ankara will remain in a critical phase at least until April 16, when Turks go to the polls to vote in a referendum on constitutional reforms, which, among other things, give the president significantly increased executive powers.
It is unfortunate that this period of political flux in Turkey coincides with a terrible economic crisis in Greece and a general flagging of public morale after seven years in the doldrums. But this is how things stand, and Athens should act accordingly.
For months we have heard Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan being lambasted for his politics and idiosyncrasies, or because of his highly unconventional attitude toward the values and rules of Europe and international justice. While such criticism may be worthy as an intellectual exercise, it serves no purpose whatsoever.
This writer is in no way suggesting we should try to be more understanding toward Erodgan. Turkey’s provocative behavior, be it in the Aegean or elsewhere, needs always to be dealt with with determination and according to the rule of law.
This sends a message to the Turkish military officers carrying out the provocation.
Greece needs to use the demarche process and it must also keep NATO informed when Ankara pushes things too far in the Aegean. Greece has every right to defend itself and its interests, and this should be an indisputable fact.
However, when it comes to defense and security issues, confrontational rhetoric is seldom productive. More importantly, Greece simply doesn’t need it.
Erdogan, in contrast, and particularly after the failed coup last summer, will use every means at his disposal to achieve the greatest possible support from the people of Turkey and help him achieve his ambitions.
In this context, the Turkish president’s rapprochement with the ultranationalist Gray Wolves party was not just unsurprising, but expected, especially after Erdogan toughened his stance vis-a-vis the Kurds. Provocations in the Aegean are just part and parcel of all this.
In this sense, we need to consider whether at the end of the day, the warning issued on Tuesday by Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias – who said Athens will not be as tolerant if the incident of live ammunition being fired in the Aegean is repeated – serves to prevent or stoke further escalation.
Greece has no reason to play Erdogan’s game of domestic politics. It needs only to stay firm and prudent.