Recent negative developments in Greek-Turkish relations have made clear that Turkey has upped its claims in the Aegean.
Ankara’s decision to prosecute two Greek soldiers who were detained after they mistakenly strayed onto Turkish territory during a border patrol (until now, such matters had been settled via communication between local outposts) was not a bolt from the blue. It was yet another sign of Turkey’s new aggressive strategy which has manifestly unfolded in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean in recent months: from the constant flyovers by Turkish fighter jets, to the Turkish military patrols near the Imia islets that recently resulted in the ramming of a Greek coast guard boat, to the threats made by Turkish military vessels against a drillship chartered by Italian company Eni to explore for gas off Cyprus.
After all, Turkey’s provocatively aggressive behavior has yielded results: Imia is now a de facto gray zone, and this year the Greek defense minister didn’t even manage to approach the uninhabited rocky formations to throw a wreath in memory of the three Hellenic Navy officers who died during the 1996 crisis. After the withdrawal of the Italian drillship, both the American and the French companies interested in hydrocarbon exploration in the area are cautiously pondering their next moves amid the risk of creating the impression of a fait accompli. Unfortunately, neither Athens nor Nicosia was quick to read Ankara’s intention to revise its Aegean military dogma. Eni’s drillship failed to complete its mission because it went unescorted into Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), while the politically naive Greek government welcomed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Athens only to find itself facing the sultan’s provocative demands in the Aegean and Thrace.
Turkey’s new strategy requires a serious attitude and a cool head. It cannot be contained with camouflage uniforms and fiery patriotic speeches, nor with grand military parades and re-enactments of ancient battles. In the same way, foreign policy cannot be exercised with publicity stunts aimed at a domestic audience.
Greece and Cyprus must show – even at this time – seriousness and determination. They must engage in a thorough diplomatic campaign reaching out to all allied governments, using evidence to expose Turkey’s big bully attitude and its ulterior motives.
The two countries must also approach other states that are equally concerned over Turkish aggression or have interests in the area. If Erdogan, in his imperial megalomania, has gone as far as to shoot down a Russian fighter jet despite Moscow’s nuclear capability, we shouldn’t be surprised if he treats Greece with pure disregard. It’s up to Athens and Nicosia to change his mind.