Ankara jabs at Greek President Pavlopoulos as tensions rise

TAGS: Turkey, Diplomacy, Defense

Turkey’s stance regarding the fate of the two Greek soldiers who were arrested last week after straying into Turkey and a war of words that erupted with President Prokopis Pavlopoulos is seen in Greece as indicative of Ankara’s intention to raise the stakes with Athens.

The deterioration of Greek-Turkish relations also appears to have raised concerns in Washington, with Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wes Mitchell scheduled to visit Athens and Nicosia next week, but not Ankara.

Moreover, the chief of the Hellenic National Defense General Staff (GEETHA), Admiral Evangelos Apostolakis, received US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt in his Athens office on Wednesday but details of their discussion were not disclosed.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim gave no sign that Ankara is seeking a swift resolution to the matter regarding the two servicemen, limiting himself to saying that the Turkish justice system will “do what it must.”

A Turkish court on Monday refused a request for the release of the two men who are charged with entering a prohibited military zone. Yildirim also expressed dismay that Greece has asked for the mediation of the EU.

“It has become a habit [for Greece] to take any issue it has with Turkey to the EU to ask for its support,” he said. “Our relationship with the EU will neither advance nor deteriorate because of such actions,” he added.

He also reiterated calls for the arrest of two people seen burning a Turkish flag at a rally on Monday organized by far-right party Golden Dawn in protest at the detention of the two Greek soldiers.

Earlier Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy derided comments made on Monday by the Greek president that “Greece may not have the territory that we would be entitled to historically.” 

Aksoy called on Pavlopoulos to respect international law and to refrain from “rhetoric not befitting his position.” Pavlopoulos retorted that he will do what he can to defend Greece’s borders and territorial integrity.

Greece, he said, desires friendship and good-neighborly relations with Turkey but the relationship must be built upon respect for international law and treaties.

Yidirim also renewed warnings to Cyprus not to proceed unilaterally with hydrocarbon drilling in the island’s exclusive economic zone. “Provocative activities will be met with the appropriate response,” he said, amid reports that an ExxonMobil vessel was heading to the Eastern Mediterranean, coinciding with exercises in the area involving the US Navy.