Allegations by Turkey Tuesday that Greek F-16 fighter jets harassed its Cesme hydrographic vessel were seen in Athens as a bid by Ankara to undermine efforts to restore a climate of normalcy. The allegations, which Greece vehemently denies, were also backed by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency.
Since the dispatch of the Cesme in the northern Aegean, Athens has sought not to escalate matters and refrained from making an issue of the fact that Ankara’s illegal Navtex for the vessel’s activities expires just before the proposed dates for a resumption of exploratory contacts between the two countries.
Tuesday’s bid to cast Greece as an aggressor and Turkey as the alleged victim was seen as an organized and concerted effort by the Turkish Defense Ministry and the communications office of the Turkish Presidency.
Military sources reported Tuesday that the Hellenic Air Force conducted an exercise in the wider area of the central Aegean, for which the relevant notice to airmen (Α0350/21) had been issued as early as February 9, five days before Turkey issued the navigational telex for Cesme’s exploratory activities.
According to the same sources, a total of 29 fighter jets took part in the exercise. They took off around 1.30 p.m. and completed their activity at around 2.40 p.m. They categorically denied there were any jets near the Cesme and stressed that they did not carry chaff or flares.
More specifically, the exercise was carried out between the islands of Agios Efstratios and Kyra Panagia and to the south near Psara, while throughout the exercise, the Cesme was sailing in the sea area west of Limnos island. The closest a Greek plane came to the Cesme was 10 nautical miles, the sources said. It was flying at 19,000 feet.
“The claims published in the Turkish media have no correlation with reality,” the sources said.
However, Ankara insisted with its allegations and Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar warned of an “appropriate response.” His threats came on the heels of similar incendiary rhetoric over the past 10 days, including from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish officials.
Athens links the recent escalation not just to Turkey’s strategy with regard to Greece but also to an effort to express Ankara’s dissatisfaction with the European Union and, mainly the United States.