No smile from Ankara

What does the Greek political elite think of Turkey’s growing assertiveness over the Aegean Sea? Turkish fighter jets have been swarming into our air space for months. Armed aircraft (adding more risk to the already dangerous dogfights) have made repeated violations, at times even harassing Greek ministerial airplanes. This time, Ankara decided to harass Greek jets taking part in a military exercise between the islands of Lesvos and Lemnos. How can Athens continue responding to this situation with a fixed smile? How much longer will the government of Prime Minister Costas Simitis downplay such activity by Turkey over the Aegean while, at the same time, pledging to promote Ankara’s «European orientation»? Everyone knows that the Simitis government has decided, since 1996, to put on a placid front in dealing with Turkish aggressiveness. Simitis believes that a «European Turkey» is the best thing that could happen to Greek-Turkish relations and that, in the light of the Helsinki declaration of December 1999, the development of Greek-Turkish ties have become a European Union concern. It seems, however, that until events develop to the point where they verify the logic of Simitis’s revised Turkish policy, Athens will just have to put up with Turkey’s pressure in the Aegean. It is highly unlikely that Simitis’s government has taken precautionary measures for the possibility that Ankara sparks a hot incident in the Aegean. Greek pilots believe that Tuesday’s episode was aimed at causing a dangerous predicament. It is about time Simitis raised Turkey’s aggressiveness over the Aegean as a political issue. For our eastern neighbors do not seem to think much of Simitis’s claims of Greece’s growing prestige overseas.

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