The decision by a Turkish court on Monday to reject a request for the release of two Greek soldiers who crossed the border into Turkey last week while on patrol has confirmed fears in Athens that the affair could drag on for weeks, if not months.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias urged Turkey to “observe procedures prescribed by international law and not turn a routine incident into a big political and legal issue.”
However, there has so far been no indication that Turkey will attempt to make the release of Angelos Mitretodis and Dimitris Kouklatzis contingent on the fate of the eight Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece after the failed coup in Turkey in 2016, and who Ankara wants extradited to stand trial.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said as much on Monday, stating that “the arrest of the two soldiers in Turkey is not the subject of a swap.”
“Neither the Greek government nor the Turkish government have made a request for a swap,” he said.
The two men were detained on Thursday after accidentally crossing the border in bad weather and appeared before the court on charges of entering a prohibited military zone.
According to to the state-run Anadolu new agency, the court in Edirne dismissed the request by the lawyers for the release of the two soldiers after deciding they must remain in custody on grounds that they did not have permanent residence in Turkey and because it was still in the process of examining the digital data on their mobile phones that were seized.
The court, however, did grant permission to the parents of the soldiers to visit them in prison on the outskirts of Edirne.
The affair has placed a further strain on the already tense relations between the two NATO members. Last month, a Turkish patrol boat rammed a Greek coast guard vessel in the eastern Aegean while Turkish warships prevented a gas rig from drilling in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone.
Defense Minister Panos Kammenos will raise the issue at a meeting of NATO ministers in Brussels on Tuesday.