Tom Ellis TOM ELLIS

National unity and pragmatism vis-a-vis Turkey

COMMENT

TAGS: Turkey, Security, Defense, Politics

The period we are in is difficult and dangerous. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is unpredictable and uncontrollable. The strategy of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis for calm waters in relations with Turkey that would allow him to focus on economic matters has clashed with inexorable reality. Instead, we are in a phase where the famous phrase “It’s the economy, stupid” does not match Greek reality. It’s only a part of a much more complex equation that also includes challenges that have an existential dimension for Greece.

Positive economic developments require political stability at home and an absence of tension abroad. And although the former may to some extent depend on the government, the latter certainly doesn’t. This has been made quite clear by Turkey’s provocative behavior in recent months.

Handling developments in Greek-Turkish relations requires cross-party unity. The government must keep the opposition fully informed; for its part, the opposition must show the highest degree of responsibility. The objective must be to create a solid national front. This is no time for division and arguments. Public statements must be terse and cautious.

And this applies to everyone, from Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his aides to his predecessor Alexis Tsipras. Having been in charge of the country for four-and-a-half years up until five months ago, Tsipras has been through difficult situations and understands what is at stake.

Ideally, there would be a channel of communication between the two. No such channel was in place when the previous government negotiated the agreement with North Macedonia. That will hopefully change on the more crucial issue of Greece’s ties with Turkey. There is no room here for personal grievances.

The time calls for responsible handling. The lack of coordination between Maximos Mansion and the Ministry of Defense on the issue of confidence-building measures (CBMs) with Turkey was regrettable; the sensitive timing made it look all the worse.

We are obviously making use of our European Union membership, of our alliance with the US and of our close partnerships with key regional states. But the timing is not good. EU influence over Ankara has declined while NATO is going through its own existential conundrum.

Meanwhile, Trump’s impeachment process and his professed friendship with Erdogan, and the ongoing political deadlock in Israel are not making things any easier.

Apart from unity at home, we also need pragmatism. Brussels condemns Turkey and may occasionally impose some limited sanctions; the State Department deplores Washington’s provocative actions; even Russia maintains a critical stance on the Turkey-Libya maritime boundaries deal. However, we do not have the luxury of being able to rely on third parties to solve our problems – at least, not so much as we used to.

The situation has deteriorated since Erdogan’s memorandum of understanding with the Tripoli-based government of Libya.

With such a direct and official questioning of Greece’s sovereign rights, we are faced with the creation of faits accomplis that go beyond political figures, parties and governments.

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