There is guarded optimism in Athens regarding bilateral relations after Sunday’s meeting between Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul.
The meeting took place amid the tumultuous developments of recent weeks sparked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which officials in Athens say have also impacted Turkey in a variety of ways that are conducive to the Greek perspective on things. Firstly, from the very onset of the crisis, Athens saw a window of opportunity for Turkey to move closer to the West and for Ankara to abandon its “revisionist mentality” that has pervaded Moscow’s decision to invade Ukraine.
Government officials have noted that the war in Ukraine is also an opportunity for the West to understand exactly what Turkey is doing in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean, and for Ankara, as a NATO member, to stop issuing threats against an allied country, Greece.
Tellingly, Mitsotakis and Erdogan also spoke as NATO allies, referring to the new wider threats that are emerging in the region from the war. With the Russian invasion raging, the notion of one NATO member threatening another is considered, if not impossible, at least a very difficult one.
Secondly, the meeting also highlighted the possibility of cooperation at the economic level and on so-called “low policy” issues from which both countries can benefit.
Given that the war in Ukraine has created a cascade of events, not least of which is the energy crisis, neither of the two leaders wants to see matters deteriorate any further with a confrontation.
A government official told Kathimerini that the two leaders focused “on what can unite the two countries and not on what separates them.”
A third factor is purely political. Both leaders have to face scheduled elections in 2023. This has led Turkey to embark on an effort to normalize, albeit superficially, relations with Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. Greece seems to have also taken advantage of this option.