Placating Turkey

In what has become par for the course, the official visit by the Turkish foreign minister was accompanied by a military provocation. It appears that despite Ali Babacan’s pro-European and relatively moderate profile, Ankara is sticking to its strategy. Even if the agenda of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s administration does not always coincide with the priorities of the deep state in Ankara, the basic parameters are the same. When Greece’s former Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis visited Turkey in 2005, Ankara did not fail to spark tension by sending a patrol boat near the islet of Imia and jet fighters over Andros. This time, it was Babacan’s remarks in western Thrace that soured the atmosphere. For he did and said things that Erdogan avoided when meeting with members of the Muslim minority in 2004. Sure, both sides have made an effort to avoid controversy, a policy that has preserved a mood of detente in bilateral ties. Turkey’s EU ambitions and tension on its southeast border have also helped here. A further reason is that the government is trying to contain the influence of the security establishment. For its part, Athens has consistently tried to maintain a good climate by working on «low politics» such as confidence-building measures, economic cooperation and cultural exchanges. Ankara gives the green light for any measures that don’t upset its broader strategy. But in what is also a test of Greek reflexes, it never fails to remind Greece that its expansionist aspirations are still on the table. Close ties are in everyone’s interest. Greece however often seems to pay over the odds, more or less acceding to Turkey’s demands. This is why it seeks to play down the recurring provocations and the fact that the violations of the country’s national air space have become more aggressive.