Amid rising tensions between Greece and Turkey in the Aegean, Wednesday's decision by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to call snap elections for June 24 intensified concerns for bilateral ties against a backdrop of growing nationalist fervor in Turkey.
There were hopes in Athens that a recent spike in provocations by Turkey might end after the June elections in Turkey. But these were undercut by fears of possible upheaval over the next two months.
Defense Minister Panos Kammenos on Wednesday struck a much calmer tone. Responding to opposition criticism about the absence of a unified government stance opposite Turkey, he said, “The government’s position is expressed by the prime minister [Alexis Tsipras].”
“I will try to leave the management of sensitive moments to those who should handle them,” he said in comments before Parliament’s cross-party committee for defense and foreign affairs.
Kammenos also reacted to a statement by the Turkish Foreign Ministry disputing Greece’s territorial sovereignty over the eastern Aegean Imia islets, saying that the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which forged modern Greece and Turkey’s borders, “is binding for us and NATO and Turkey.”
President Prokopis Pavlopoulos also commented, noting that Ankara’s behavior was putting its EU membership ambitions at risk. Greece favors Turkey’s EU prospects but “this presupposes respect for the borders of the European Union as well as Greece,” he said. “We are not willing to make any concessions on this.”
Kammenos also referred to a recent initiative by three young men who placed Greek flags on islets around Fournoi in the southeast Aegean as a tribute to Hellenic Air Force Captain Giorgos Baltadoros, who died when his jet went down off Skyros. “Anyone who raises a flag must also be prepared to defend that flag,” Kammenos remarked.
Meanwhile, amid mounting European pressure on Ankara to release the two Greek soldiers detained in Turkey, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker described the suggestion by Turkish officials that the Greek soldiers had been a “threat” to Greece as “ridiculous.”
In a related development, the Council of State is on Thursday expected to rule on the asylum applications of eight Turkish soldiers who fled to Greece in July 2016 following a failed coup in Turkey.