Turkey has “come close” to overstepping Greece’s “red lines,” Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias told Skai in an interview aired on Tuesday night, providing the example of an incident last February when a Turkish coast guard vessel rammed a Greek coast guard patrol boat off the Imia islets in the Aegean Sea.
Greece’s “calm and composed” manner may have averted unpleasant developments in Greek-Turkish relations, Kotzias told Kathimerini’s executive editor Alexis Papachelas on Skai TV’s “Istories” program.
“If we didn’t have a calm and composed approach from the Greek side, no one can say where this could have led,” Kotzias said in regard to the incident in February off Imia, an area disputed by Ankara and over which the two countries came to the brink of war in 1996.
“In such cases you either respond with bravado and bluster or you continue with efforts to appease,” he said.
Asked about the possibility of a showdown with Greece, Kotzias indicated that Turkey has realized that the cost of such an incident is perhaps too high. “Greece is not Afrin and [Turkey] realizes that it would not only be costly but that it could lose,” he said, referring to Turkey’s military intervention in northern Syria.
Kotzias pointed to a sense of “nervousness” in Turkey, which he described as a country “full of contradictions and contrasts.”
As for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he said his revisionist tendencies extended to Greece. “Erdogan is chiefly interested in energy reserves in the region and perhaps feels some nervousness as Turkey is not involved in the exploitation of these reserves.”
Another contentious issue has been the continued detention, since early March, of two Greek soldiers who accidentally crossed the Turkish border. “I am not in a position to say whether they fell into a trap or whether this was planned,” he said.
“Turkey’s behavior, however, shows a change in attitude,” Kotzias said, indicating that there was no question of Greece agreeing to an exchange of the soldiers for eight Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece after the failed Turkish coup in July 2016 and have sought asylum here.