With concerns growing in the government that the tough language used by Defense Minister Panos Kammenos about Turkey could hamper negotiations for the release of two Greek soldiers held in the neighboring country, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is reportedly planning a meeting with the leader of the junior coalition partner after Easter to ask him to tone down the rhetoric.
The government also sought Thursday to clarify that Kammenos’s remarks referring to the imminent transfer of 7,000 troops to the Evros border region and the Aegean islands is not related to the recent spike in tension, but more to do with new organization of Greece’s armed forces, saying that, in any case, this will not take place in the immediate future.
According to a senior government official, the incendiary rhetoric “is not needed” at a time when the government is trying to de-escalate tension between the countries.
Earlier in the week a series of acrimonious exchanges between Athens and Ankara was capped with Kammenos saying that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has gone “completely mad.”
The government’s concern over the stance of Kammenos, who is also the leader of the nationalist Independent Greeks party, was also shared by senior officials of ruling SYRIZA, as well as opposition parties, who say that he is causing unnecessary tension and is only playing into Ankara’s hands.
New Democracy said Kammenos’s tough talk is only “adding fuel to the fire.”
Speaking to Skai TV, SYRIZA lawmaker Dimitris Sevastakis warned that Greece should not allow itself to get caught in the “trap” of heightened tensions set by Erdogan.
For his part, SYRIZA MEP Stelios Kouloglou told the Parapolitika radio station that “Kammenos is serving the interests of his audience” and insisted that Athens must remain decisive and calm as hints of an imminent military conflict with Turkey will impact tourism.
Meanwhile, referring to Kammenos’s talk of sending troops to the Evros border and the islands, Turkish Minister of European Union Affairs Omer Celik said Thursday that his statements were “foolhardy.”
According to Turkey’s Hurriyet daily, Celik added that the EU should reprimand Greece over some of the comments emanating from its political leadership.
Greek and Turkish fighter jets engaged in two dogfights over the Aegean yesterday after the Turkish jets violated Greek airspace 16 times.