Athens is reportedly preparing – on a political, economic and military level – for a standoff with Ankara that could last up to two years, as the government says the recent spike in Turkish provocations is part of a plan to bring its claims in the Aegean Sea back to the fore.
Greek and foreign analysts say that the harsh rhetoric coming from Turkey is directly linked to the upcoming referendum on April 16 on whether to expand the powers of the president.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has tried to woo voters by playing the nationalist card. The stakes couldn’t be higher for Erdogan, as a no vote could plunge the neighboring country into an even deeper crisis.
However, it is believed that the provocations are driven by more than just a populist effort to appeal to a domestic audience, as Ankara has, at the same time, reintroduced talk of “gray areas” in Aegean, essentially disputing Greece’s sovereignty.
Greece’s decision not to extradite eight Turkish servicemen to Turkey and this week’s asylum applications of two more officers – allegedly involved in a plot to assassinate Erdogan – are not making matters any easier between the two countries.
Given this context, Athens is preparing for more tension in the period beyond the April referendum, stretching all the way to the national elections in Turkey in 2019.
The tension between the two NATO allies is not lost on the US State Department. But other than encouraging both sides to resolve their differences through dialogue, not much more can be expected from the US as long as the position of US assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs – once occupied by the likes of Richard Holbrooke and Victoria Nuland and which served as a direct line of communication with foreign capitals – remains vacant.
For its part, Athens is doing its utmost to establish lines of communications with the White House through other channels, including Israel, whose Prime Minister Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to enjoy a good rapport with US President Donald Trump.
Greece is banking on its strong ties with Israel, Egypt – Trump and President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi have a very good relationship – and Cyprus to convince the White House that all four countries are a bedrock of stability in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Moreover, Greeks feel they have the ear of White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who is of partially Greek heritage.