The frequent violations of Greek air space by Turkish fighter jets, often flown by inexperienced or veteran pilots following a purge in the military by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, increases the risk of a military accident over the Aegean Sea, Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said Thursday, adding however that Athens wants to strengthen ties between the two nations.
In comments made to state broadcaster ERT, Kotzias said a significant percentage of Turkish pilots were now either fresh out of school or former pilots returning to service.
“Unless we strengthen diplomatic ties and improve on our channels of communication, there is always a chance of an accident or a mistake,” he said, adding that Athens was “calm” and showing “patience.”
Analysts estimate that about 600 combat pilots have been dismissed or arrested in the wake of last year’s failed coup. An emergency decree in late August announced that scores of veteran pilots faced a mandatory recall or risked losing their licences.
The minister also told ERT that Athens continues to support Ankara’s European course on the condition that Turkey remains committed to democratic norms and principles. Several European officials have called for an end to Turkey’s membership talks with the EU.
Kotzias is expected to visit the US on October 16-17 for a series of meetings (including at the National Security Council) and also to discuss a possible trip to Washington by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.