Erdogan stoking Aegean tensions


Remarks late Thursday by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that his country will respond every time Greek fighter jets fly over the Aegean were described by the Greek Foreign Ministry as “completely unacceptable” and part of a deliberate effort by Ankara to stoke tensions.

Amid almost daily violations of Greek airspace by Turkish jets, Erdogan told Haberturk that Turkish jets are only responding to the activities of their Greek counterparts, who also do the same. “[The Greek jets] are not tourist airplanes,” he said, adding that if “you take off, then mine will also do the same.”
“When sometimes our planes take off in the Aegean, you see planes also taking off from Greece. But when Greece’s planes take off, we launch ours,” he said.

In response, Greece’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying it was unacceptable to compare the violation of Greek airspace by Turkish fighter jets with Greek efforts to intercept them. “Turkey’s effort to equate the flights of Turkish military aircraft that violate Greece’s national sovereignty with the identification and interception missions the Hellenic Air Force carries out in defense of national sovereignty is completely unacceptable,” the ministry said in a press release. It called on Turkey to “to realize that international law must be respected by all and in its entirety.”

“Turkish military aircraft violate Greek national airspace on an almost daily basis, including through low-altitude overflights of inhabited Greek islands. This is a practice that Greece systematically condemns and reports, both bilaterally as well as to the competent international bodies.”

Shortly after Erdogan’s comments, two pairs of Turkish F-16s flew over the eastern Aegean islands of Oinousses and Panagia in what was seen as sign from Ankara that not only will it continue to violate Greek airspace but will it do so over inhabited islands.

Erdogan also told Haberturk that Greece had procured Russian S-300 missile systems, the precursor of the S-400, in a bid to justify his government’s decision to proceed with the purchase of the latter from Moscow.

His remarks came just days before the next meeting of Greek and Turkish foreign ministers Giorgos Katrougalos and Mevlut Cavusoglu, who will discuss the easing of tensions in the Aegean Sea and related confidence-building measures, among other things.