In his first interview as Greece’s defense minister, the country’s former armed forces chief Evangelos Apostolakis has told Kathimerini that adopting confidence-building measures with Turkey in a bid to reduce tensions in the Aegean is a key priority.
Speaking of an established “channel of communication” between himself and his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar, also a former military chief, Apostolakis said their aim was to implement the confidence-building measures agreed in 1988 by then Greek foreign minister Karolos Papoulias and Turkey’s Mesut Yilmaz.
The enforcement of that agreement is needed “to avert the creation of frequent unnecessary tensions that could lead to a possible accident with uncontrollable consequences,” Apostolakis said.
As for the so-called “Blue Motherland” air and sea exercises that Turkey is to hold in the Aegean and Mediterranean next week, Apostolakis sought to play down the issue, saying they were part of “regular training activities” of the Turkish armed forces but would nonetheless be monitored by Greece’s armed forces.
The term “mavi vatan” – which translates into English as “blue motherland” – was used in November by Akar in reference to a swath of the Aegean, Mediterranean and Black seas, fueling concern in Athens.
Asked about a comment he made in December, while still armed forces chief, according to which Greece would “flatten” any rocky islet that Turkish forces land upon in the Aegean, Apostolakis referred to a “self-evident answer to a hypothetical question.”
He stressed “the readiness and capability of the Greek armed forces to defend national interests when and if required.”
The minister also underlined the importance of bolstering Greece’s defense capabilities, pointing to an upgrade of F16 fighter jets, P-3B maritime patrol aircraft, Mirage 2000s and navy frigates.
Questioned about Greece’s increasingly close diplomatic and military ties with the US and about the potential for defense procurements from European suppliers, Apostolakis said Greece had a “long-standing strategic defense relationship” with the US but “chiefly belongs to the European family” and is examining various European procurement options while also seeking to boost Greece’s domestic defense industry.
As for the Prespes deal with what is now North Macedonia, which is set to join NATO, Apostolakis said the agreement and accession pave the way for “boosting and extending our cooperation with the neighboring country in the area of defense.”