An Ay-class submarine of the Turkish Navy sets sail in the Bosporus, on its way to the Marmara Sea, in Istanbul, in a file photo. Turkey's acquisition of German submarines would upset the balance of power in the Aegean. [AP]
Some analysts say that Nikos Dendias’ toughening rhetoric toward Germany is his own personal choice rather than a stance agreed with Kyriakos Mitsotakis. It is a rather unlikely scenario. It is unthinkable that the Greek foreign minister would escalate his strong-worded criticism of German cozying up to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan without his prime minister’s consent.
Dendias is not the type who would do so; and Mitsotakis would not accept that kind of behavior either. The phraseology has been increasingly intense over the past couple of weeks, so this is not an unexpected development. Germany is indeed the target: Germany is Europe’s heavyweight, it is in charge of the six-month presidency of the Council, it offered to supposedly mediate in order to tame Erdogan. Under normal circumstances, no Greek government would take the risk of damaging ties with Berlin.
It is therefore clear that Athens’ decision to speak out over Berlin’s responsibility over the blatant toleration shown toward Turkey’s constant provocations derives from a sense of anxiety. Most analysts believe that Greek pressure on the German government concerns the decision on European sanctions against Turkey, which will be taken at the upcoming European Union summit. They believe that Greece is pushing for strict sanctions that will harm Turkey’s already traumatized economy, and it is frustrated with Germany’s evident reluctance to take steps in that direction.
This is not what this column believes. The Greek government knows that the chances of a European decision to impose sanctions against Turkey at the December 10-11 summit are limited. The EU may go on to impose some meaningless penalties for the sake of appearances, unless France shows determination to rock the German boat (along with Spain, Italy and Hungary). What the Greek government is really after is a German embargo on arms sales to Turkey. Athens is deeply concerned as Berlin is expected to deliver the first of six German-made submarines to Turkey. The new submarines will significantly alter the balance of maritime power in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean.
On his part, Erdogan has adapted his strategy. He knows well that he is deceiving only the European governments that want to be deceived, he is cozying up to the EU, setting Greece and Cyprus apart from the rest of Europe with constant provocations and allegations aimed at European ears, and at the same time he is warning Germany against changing its policy of understanding, toleration and cooperation toward him. The quarrel about the inspection of the Turkish cargo vessel in the Mediterranean and the debates in the German parliament over alleged refugee pushbacks in the Aegean are only warning shots coming from Ankara toward Berlin.