OPINION

Greece and Turkey at the regional poker table

greece-and-turkey-at-the-regional-poker-table

By playing its cards right, Athens has made systematic efforts to bolster the country against Turkey. Decisions were made in the area of defense that had been pending for years and procurement programs have started gathering pace. On the diplomatic front, Greece is always looking to expand its power by forging alliances with Israel, Egypt and, more recently, the United Arab Emirates. These alliances are extremely important, though they are no guarantee of help in a sticky situation with Turkey.

Ankara has helped Greek foreign policy a lot by starting rows everywhere and with everyone. From touting Ahmet Davutoglu’s dogma of no friction with any neighbors, it has gone on to do just the opposite – and not just with its neighbors, but also with faraway geopolitical players.

Something, however, has changed in the past couple of months. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to have realized that he has reached his limits and needs to start controlling the damage as fast as possible. He may be overambitious and isolated, but he also has a practical mind and knows to fix his mistakes when he feels threatened. He has already launched a diplomatic drive stretching from France to Israel and from Egypt to the UAE. It is a methodical campaign that is playing out both on and off the radar. It has also brought results in some cases. In others, such as in relation to Cairo and Jerusalem, for example, Erdogan has done what he can, with few results so far. Restoring relations with Washington is, however, the overarching goal. What is interesting – and paradoxical – is that former US president Donald Trump had a destabilizing effect on Erdogan despite their personal relationship. Maybe this is because he was unpredictable and spoke the same “language” as the Turkish leader.

Now the US foreign policy machine has regained its power and is back to playing its traditional role. It also seems to be returning to its classic policy of equal distances between Greece and Turkey.

Of course, Erdogan has some powerful enemies in the United States, just as Greece has some important friends, foremost among whom is Senator Bob Menendez. Nevertheless, the Turkish leader has managed to enter a quid pro quo relationship with the Biden administration as a result of developments in Afghanistan as well as on other matters.

Greece will have to conduct its own push to convince all the different players that it can bring a few strong cards to the table. Together with a public and private diplomacy drive, it will also have to bolster its own defenses, apart from all the statements and meetings that usually lead to little in practical terms.

The poker game in our part of the world is far from over; and there are a lot of surprises in store.