With Greece set to exit its bailout program on Monday, the timing of the release of the two Greek soldiers by Turkey on Tuesday could not have been more favorable for the government, which has been under pressure since last month’s devastating wildfires.
“Fortune owed us some good news,” a senior government official said shortly after Greek soldiers Dimitris Kouklatzis and Angelos Mitretodis were set free by the Turkish government. They had been held without charge for five months.
The two were arrested on March 1 after crossing the border between the two countries during a routine patrol in bad weather.
Greece and the European Commission had been strongly protesting their detention in the western town of Edirne for months. Government officials reckon Ankara’s change of heart with regard to the soldiers was linked to its trade war with Washington and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to look to Europe in the search for alternative ways to relieve the debilitating pressure on his country’s economy.
It remains to be seen if the attempt at what appears to be a goodwill gesture to Athens and Brussels will continue when it comes to Turkish plans to drill for gas in the Eastern Mediterranean – possibly within Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone – in the coming days, which analysts fear could trigger another round of tension with Greece’s closest ally which is also a member of the European Union.
Analysts also said it could also be an effort to prepare public opinion in Turkey for the release of other foreign nationals, including US pastor Andrew Brunson, whose detention prompted US President Donald Trump to take measures against Ankara.
US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert welcomed the news of the soldiers’ release in a tweet yesterday, while on Wednesday, US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt also tweeted his congratulations to the Greek Foreign Ministry.
For its part, opposition New Democracy accused the government of attempting to wrongly claim credit for the release of the pair. A conservative official said that the government had “not the slightest inkling of their imminent release.”
Greek hopes that recent tensions between Athens and Ankara could be defused were dampened yesterday following reports that a Turkish fisherman had fired in the air to frighten a Greek fisherman after the pair exchanged words in the sea area between the northern Aegean islands of Limnos and Samothrace.
The incident occured in the wake of reports that Turkish coast guard officers has been bullying Greek fishermen in the southeast Aegean.