Back in February 2022, two days before Russia invaded Ukraine, I had written about the need to safeguard international law and the European equilibrium; more specifically, Article 2 (war or the threat of war) of the United Nations Charter, as well as the Helsinki Final Act that is so fundamental to European security and cooperation and the Charter of Paris for a New Europe.
I had stressed that Greece was also facing official hostility from its NATO ally Turkey and how the threat of war was constantly present in Ankara’s rhetoric and planning, while Turkish challenges to Greece’s territorial integrity were also escalating in tandem. I asked whether it was impossible to believe that our declarations about Ukraine at the time could also apply to the threat of war against Greece and whether what is the case for non-NATO members may also stand for members of the Alliance.
More than 100 days since then, Russia has sustained the greatest humiliation it has known in the post-war era as a result of President Vladimir Putin’s gross miscalculations. It is widely acknowledged that he has failed both politically and militarily in Ukraine, while seriously eroding the Russian Federation’s clout on a global scale.
What is being sought now – although not by everybody – is a solution that will end this barbaric war without inflicting any irreparable humiliations on Russia and its president. There is nothing flattering about this for a country that wanted to be known as a superpower.
Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in a somewhat similar situation. If he makes the mistake – as his political rivals are encouraging him to do – of transferring his hostile instincts into the field of military operations in Evros and the Aegean, he will spell his own destruction just as Putin did. The difference is that no one will step in to help him avert a personal humiliation and, obviously, the demise of his political career.
Greece already enjoys a clear advantage in the following areas:
• A constant flow of good-quality intelligence from a variety of different sources. (There is no need to elaborate further.)
‘The prime minister, his key ministers and high-ranking officials know exactly when and how certain clauses in the defense agreements Greece has signed with specific countries would be activated’
• As a state, we have beaten Turkey in the field of so-called “international legitimacy,” campaigning or even propaganda, if you will. On the international stage, we respond to Turkey and Erdogan and the arguments they so lavishly dispense. Having served as ambassador to Washington, I can assure readers that it takes no time or effort to get immediate confirmation of the accuracy of the positions and the importance of the maps presented in detail by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his Ministers of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias and Defense Nikos Panagiotopoulos. Erdogan does it all on his own, fast and free of charge, and very persuasively.
• Let’s be honest: Erdogan’s knee-jerk aggression – he can no longer be regarded as the “unpredictable strategist” – and his policies have contributed to the unprecedented bolstering of Greece’s military defenses – with state-of-the-art equipment too – and to active partnerships and alliances that are irking Ankara. Even more importantly, Turkey is also losing ground when it comes to perceptions of military might and how it is projected – and are where Greece also has the advantage.
• The prime minister, his key ministers and high-ranking officials know exactly when and how certain clauses in the defense agreements Greece has signed with specific countries would be activated. This is a significant advantage for Athens, as the other side often tries to ascertain what it would take, and rather gauchely at that.
There are many outside Greece who believe that a mistake on Turkey’s part akin to Putin’s would result in Erdogan’s ouster. Here in Greece, we do not have the luxury of speculation. We have always wanted peace and we still do. Only peace. But the strongmen in Ankara should also know that we are prepared, we are united and we are determined. If we are provoked, our retaliation will be convincing and overwhelming. Clear understandings are what makes good neighbors.
And just to add one final thought since Ankara brought up the issue of complexes: Greece is happy with what it is and it’s doing very nicely within its borders. Turkey, in contrast, is acting like a frightened, small and wronged country that wants to grow – it is an Ottoman syndrome.
Alexandros P. Mallias is the former ambassador of the Hellenic Republic to the United States (2005-09).