OPINION

The ball is now in the Mitsotakis and Erdogan court

the-ball-is-now-in-the-mitsotakis-and-erdogan-court

Following the positive atmosphere that prevailed during Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s visit to Greece, the ball of Greek-Turkish relations is now in the leaders’ court.

There could be an attempt at a rapprochement in the meeting between Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels in two weeks. It will depend on Turkey’s intentions and requires political will from both sides.

For his part, Mitsotakis is ready to move in this direction, under the condition, of course, that the other side will not use threats, will move away from the expansionism of the “Blue Homeland” dogma and will make the strategic choice to seek peaceful coexistence to the benefit of both sides. However, realistically speaking, there are no indications that this will happen.

It goes without saying that Greece is going into this meeting with the earnest strategic goal of normalizing bilateral relations and in the long run even becoming one of the staunchest allies in favor of as close an institutional cooperation as possible between the European Union and Turkey – a cooperation that, for a variety of reasons, Greece desires more than any other European country. Of course, all of this depends on the termination of provocations against Greece.

On a symbolic level, Cavusoglu’s visit improved a mood that had been “troubled” following the verbal tension witnessed during Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias’ trip to Ankara over a month ago. There seems to be some potential for the creation of a different, less confrontational environment in our bilateral relations: gradually, without excessive expectations, with self-restraint and realism.

For this to take place, though, Erdogan must finally understand that it is not in his interest – politically, economically or militarily – to have disputes with everyone. The change in the US presidency has exacerbated the situation and created rifts in his relations with the superpower. Irrationalities and personal interests have been replaced by serious calculated decisions and strategic goals. At a time when the Turkish president is seeking ways to smooth over his relations with the United States, any tension with Greece is unproductive. It is a parameter he cannot ignore.

The diverging positions of Athens and Ankara on a range of issues are known. The two sides agreed to disagree during Cavusoglu’s visit. However, this has not prevented them from taking positive steps during the recent period, including a new round of exploratory talks on the bureaucratic level, political consultations and even some Confidence Building Measures.

Erdogan knows that Greece (like Cyprus) is a full member of the European Union. This is also part of the equation in bilateral relations. As is the fact that the Greek-American community has its own corridors of influence in Washington. It is wrong to accuse Athens of bringing third parties into its bilateral relationship with Turkey. The equation is more complex than that.

Relations between countries do not develop in a vacuum. They are not independent of the regional background (in this case, Greece’s cooperation schemes with Israel, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and others), nor from the wider geopolitical reality (Greece’s membership of the EU and NATO and its strategic alliance with the US).

The optimistic assessment of the situation following Cavusoglu’s visit and prior to the meeting of Mitsotakis and Erdogan, is that we may be at the early stages of a gradual normalization. The pessimistic one is that beyond the good feelings and hugs, nothing has materially changed and relations will remain tense.

We will know which of the two will hold in two weeks’ time.