Alexis Papachelas ALEXIS PAPACHELAS

No time for mixed signals

COMMENT

TAGS: US, Turkey, Defense

We are entering a very thorny patch in Greek-Turkish relations. Turkey’s activities within Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), combined with the standoff with the United States over Ankara’s acquisition of the Russian S-400 missile defense system are increasing the tension further in Greece’s wider region.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is weighing his next move – and waiting. The Europeans have shown their teeth but are still maintaining a rather moderate stance. Ankara knows that EU membership is no longer a realistic ambition, so the sanctions announced by Brussels did not have much of an impact.

For his part, US President Donald Trump made it clear yesterday that Turkey cannot have both the American-made F-35 fighter jets and the S-400. Officials in Ankara had hoped that Trump would chose to ignore America’s deep state and react differently, despite the fact that Congress left no room for misinterpretation.

We will have to wait and see how things develop from now on and what Erdogan’s reaction will be. In any case, the Turkish strongman must feel disappointed, if not hurt, by the West’s reaction.

The worst thing that could happen right now is being caught up amid mixed, contradictory messages. In the case of ExxonMobil’s exploration for offshore reserves in Cyprus, Ankara got the message because the message was crystal clear and left no room for misunderstanding.

In Washington, many officials are concerned that if Turkey is penalized with sanctions and the F-35 program is cancelled, the Mediterranean country will become a lost cause to American interests. Trump seemed almost apologetic in his statements, as if he wanted to send a reassuring message to his Turkish counterpart.

Amid these developments, the risk of a crisis in Greek-Turkish relations is real. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has indicated to Athens in recent days that Ankara does not want further tension around Cyprus and the Aegean or anywhere that could create problems for bilateral relations.

For its part, Greece’s new administration is sending out in all directions the same message as its predecessor: the response to any Turkish explorations on Greece’s continental shelf will be swift and forceful. Greece’s new foreign minister will reiterate this message in his visit to Washington. We will have to wait and see what message will reach what ears amid this complex environment.

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