Everyone has suddenly woken up to developments in the Eastern Mediterranean. And that is thanks to French President Emmanuel Macron, who shuffled the cards, like he so often does. Macron took a clear stand toward Turkey and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Americans realized that war between Greece and Turkey could well tear NATO apart. It would not just be a conflict between two members of the alliance. The rest of NATO would be deeply divided as some countries would side with Greece and others with Turkey.
US President Donald Trump realized the problem, perhaps with the help of Mideast leaders. He is believed to have used the phrase “back off.” After all, Trump and Erdogan are known to have their own code of communication.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is worried too. Her main fear, if not nightmare, is a repeat of the 2015 inflow of asylum seekers from Turkey. Officials in Athens have tried to assure Berlin that Greece would be able to ward off such a scenario; but the Germans are not convinced. Events earlier this year in Evros where Greece essentially neutralized Ankara’s campaign to exploit the migrant/refugee issue in order to promote its own political ends were also not enough to convince them.
Erdogan realizes that Greece is no pushover. Recent weeks have shown that notwithstanding all the back and forth and the bickering at home, Greece remains a frontline country for Europe and the US. Sure, inside the mind of Erdogan the old Turkish stereotype is enjoying a revival – the idea, in other words, that Greece is the long arm of the West with which it tries to contain and strangle it.
Up until a few days ago, Erdogan was seeking to start a fight with Greece; anywhere from Kastellorizo to the northern Aegean. He wanted to provoke us so that we would deal the first strike. It was also a bid to wear down the Hellenic Armed Forces and keep the tension high for a long time. The Greek government responded with reasonable determination, it sent out a message with its Limnos frigate and, at the same time, was able to keep the country’s forces clear from the Turkish trap. We are winning time, which is something we need. But we should not let our guard down because the apparent calm could give way to a storm in no time.
One final thing. Greece needs to mobilize its public diplomacy. This is not about exchanging barbs with the Turks on social media. Nor taking aim at the mediators based on the delusion that they will somehow be on our side. That’s not what they are paid to do. Public diplomacy is about explaining Greece’s positions in technocratic terms and in an international context. And here we are seriously lagging.