The signals and aims of Pompeo’s visit
There is no doubt that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent visit to Greece was a positive development, which strengthened – in terms of appearance, at least – Greece’s position, as evidenced by Ankara’s annoyance expressed through the spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development (AK) Party.
Pointing to Pompeo’s visits to Cyprus and Greece without these being followed by the usual balancing act of also visiting the occupied north of Cyprus and Turkey, Ankara seems to believe that Washington is starting to lean somewhat toward Greece’s side, as Athens does (with a dose of exaggeration). Apart from the symbolic nature of these visits, Pompeo’s statements also contained what can only be construed as criticism against some of Turkey’s recent behavior.
Some analysts are interpreting Pompeo’s visit in the context of domestic American politics as well, arguing that he came to Greece in order to secure the support of Greek-American voters for Donald Trump in the upcoming presidential elections. This may indeed be one aspect of the visit, but it is negligible. The majority of older Greek Americans tend to vote Republican anyway, while the third and fourth generations basically could not care less. The fact is that Pompeo came to Greece with the explicit aim of forwarding American interests. He said so quite clearly in every interview he gave and statement he made, while the fact that he visited Thessaloniki and Souda Bay on Crete, and not Athens, is just further proof of this.
Pompeo made it clear that northern Greece has an important role to play in America’s energy plans as a pathway for natural gas and oil, but mainly as a gateway for American liquified natural gas to supply the Balkans and Central Europe. This process began under Greece’s previous SYRIZA-led government and continued with Washington’s support for the Prespes name deal with what is now North Macedonia, and more recently for the agreement between Serbia and Kosovo, which was actually signed in the presence of the US president.
The stated aim is to curb European dependence on Russian gas, but America is also keen to drive a wedge between Russia and Europe, and especially Germany. Washington has already expressed its abject disapproval – with threats of sanctions – of plans to build the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany, as it seeks to promote its own natural gas exports. The Balkans and Central Europe are seen as fertile ground for effecting such a wedge.
The message from Pompeo’s visit to the US naval base at Souda Bay is that Washington is not abandoning the Eastern Mediterranean to the whims of Russia, Turkey or even France. It was also a move to reassure Israel that its security is a priority for Trump. The rest will be seen in due course.