Turkey is an unfaithful ally in NATO and that is why it was removed from the F-35 fighter jet program, says Senator Chris Van Hollen, a member of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, in an interview with Kathimerini. The senator also stresses that any sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, or any upgrade of its existing fleet, must be accompanied by clear conditions that they will not be used to violate Greece’s airspace or to conduct attacks on Syrian Kurds, who were America’s allies in the fight against ISIS.
The Maryland Democrat, who is seeking re-election in November, called Greece an important strategic partner, whose role has been reinforced in the aftermath of the war in Ukraine. In this context, the senator highlights the importance of the port of Alexandroupoli, not only militarily with its contributions to the safety of NATO and the smooth transit of supplies, but also in an energy context and the role it can play in reducing the reliance of many European states on Russian natural gas.
Van Hollen, who spent 14 years as a member of the House of Representatives, points out that as we move toward winter, when the price of energy rises, Western political leaders will have to explain what is at stake and to clarify the reasons why support for Ukraine must continue and why there must be no letup in the pressure on Russia, as “Putin is counting on us no longer willing to sustain the effort.”
How do you view the role of Greece as a partner in a sensitive region like the Balkans and the East Med?
US-Greece relations have never been stronger, certainly not in my lifetime, and that’s true across every dimension, from economics to security to cultural and everything in between. I just think our relations are very strong. Greece has proven its importance as a strategic partner to NATO and has reinforced that important role in the aftermath of Putin’s attack on Ukraine. We see this clearly with the activities at the port of Alexandroupoli, which is not only important from the military standpoint and in terms of protecting NATO and making sure that we provide frontline states and the Ukrainian people with the equipment they need to defend themselves, but also increasingly important when it comes to energy and natural gas and reducing the over-reliance of many European countries on Russian gas. I think the activities at the port of Alexandroupoli are a clear example of that constantly strengthening relationship between the United States and Greece and the importance of Greece within the overall Alliance.
Despite ideological swings in governments in both Washington (Obama, Trump, Biden) and Athens (Papandreou, Samaras, Tsipras, Mitsotakis), the trajectory seems constant.
I agree that the fact that the US-Greece relationship has been sustained despite political swings in both Greece and the US is a testament to its enduring importance viewed by both countries. That is the essence of a true partnership, one that can survive political swings in both countries and come out even stronger. I would argue that today it’s stronger than ever and its importance is recognized by both capitals.
‘The fact that the US-Greece relationship has been sustained despite political swings in both Greece and the US is a testament to its enduring importance viewed by both countries’
Do you see any possibility for an end to the war in Ukraine?
The war will end when Putin recognizes that it’s a strategic failure, and here I don’t mean he’s going to publicly admit that it was a strategic blunder at home, but when he concludes that it’s no longer worth it, that militarily and economically the situation does not justify the continuation of his aggression. That is why it’s so important that the US and Greece and our NATO partners continue the fight. It is important that we sustain our support for the Ukrainian people both in terms of providing military equipment – and Greece has been a very important partner in that effort – and it’s also important that we sustain the economic pressure and sanctions that have been imposed on Putin.
As we are still on Russia, how will history view Mikhail Gorbachev?
Before I got involved in elective politics I was very focused on nuclear arms control, the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union, and there’s no doubt that Gorbachev was somebody who recognized that the Soviet system was unsustainable and had deep inherent flaws, and he tried to reform. Words like glasnost and perestroika became terms that all of us became familiar with. He seemed to help raise at least somewhat the Iron Curtain, which was then lifted by the people and by people power. But he opened the door to the transformation that took place.
Are you worried that Western societies – mostly in Europe where they feel the pain in terms of energy costs more – could at some point feel they cannot continue, that it is not worth it?
This is the big challenge that we face as democracies, which have to be responsive to public opinion. Leadership from elected officials is going to be very important, especially as we get into the winter months when the price of energy goes up. This is a moment where I think political leadership is going to be essential in explaining the stakes and making clear why we’ve got to sustain this effort. Putin is counting on us no longer willing to sustain the effort. We, the G7 and others, have been working on an initiative to get an agreement that we will only pay a certain price, a lower price, for Russian gas, and that we will use our economic muscle to enforce that through sanctions potentially with other countries.
Where does the Senate stand with respect to the transfer of new and/or upgrade of older F-16s to Ankara? The president had told Erdogan at the NATO summit in Madrid that he would support such a move.
Let me just rewind the clock a little bit on this because I think the context is important. Congress was right to walk off the sale of F-35 to Turkey after it purchased the Russian S-400 system. I was very involved in the effort to block that sale. This acquisition along with other things proved Turkey is an unfaithful NATO ally and it was important that we blocked them from the F-35 program. With respect to the sale of additional F-16s or upgrades, they should include conditions, for example that Turkey cannot use its F-16s to invade the airspace of other NATO countries like Greece. I also believe that Turkey should be prohibited from using the F-16s to attack our Syrian-Kurdish allies who were essential in the fight against ISIS. So, long story short, any sale of F-16s or upgrade should be accompanied by clear conditions. Congress really took the lead on the F-35s and I assure you Congress will be very involved with respect to any F-16s.
How does the US Senate view President Erdogan’s actions with respect to Greece (overflights, aggressive rhetoric) and Cyprus (violations of EEZ)?
Violations of Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone are destabilizing and the US and our NATO partners, as well as our new partners, need to work together to hold Turkey accountable. We saw a little less than a year ago her actions with respect to Varosha in clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions and all of this is on top of issues that are important not just to Greece and the US, but to all democracies, like the continued political repression of opposition parties like the Kurds.