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How Big is the Risk of Turkey and Greece Going Into Real Hostilities?

Türkiye threatened Greece with the occupation of the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. Earlier, President Erdogan reminded Athens about the fate of the Greek population of Izmir, slaughtered by the Turks. The congestion of oil tankers in the Mediterranean is also part of the confrontation between Ankara and Athens, which has sharply escalated over the past year. How big is the risk of the sides going over to real hostilities?

“He who sows the wind will reap the whirlwind! Either Greece will take a step back and follow the agreements, or Turkey will take the necessary measures. One night and unexpectedly,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters.

The Turkish side is prone to the poetic form of threats. As far as the night visit is concerned, the subordinate quotes the boss. While on a visit to Serbia, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “This is not a dream. If I said that we can come suddenly one night, it means that when the time comes, we can come suddenly one night … Turkey will not be stopped by the fact that the islands are occupied by Greece. We will take the necessary steps at the right time. It can happen unexpectedly and on any of the nights.”

Cavusoglu developed this idea: Turkey can question the sovereignty of the Greek islands in the Aegean by deeds, not limited to words about their occupation by Greece. But only if Greece does not refuse to place its weapons on them.

Ankara will not ignore the threats against it, Athens needs to follow the agreements – or Turkey will take the necessary measures, Cavusoglu concluded.

Earlier, the Turkish Ministry of Defense announced the transfer of armored vehicles by Greece to the islands of Midilli (Lesbos) and Sisam (Samos) in the Aegean Sea, which have the status of demilitarized. Erdogan spoke about the same “incident”. Like, Athens “will pay a high price” if they continue to “provoke the Turkish military.”

“I want to tell Athens only one thing: do not forget about Izmir!” – he also said during a visit to the festival of aviation, astronautics and technology, held in the Turkish city of Samsun. And here he went too far with highly artistic metaphors, since only purely administrative obstacles prevent the world community from recognizing the so-called Asia Minor catastrophe – the massacre of the population in Asia Minor in 1922 as the genocide of the Greek people. Its peak was the destruction of the Greek population of the city of Smyrna (now Izmir) by Ataturk’s army.

Not a good metaphor, but Recep Tayyip Erdogan is an addicted person. In addition, in Ankara it is commonly believed that the Greeks of Asia Minor killed themselves and drowned themselves in the Aegean Sea. As before the Armenians.

But why is the leadership of Turkey so excited now that they are again threatening war with their western neighbor and a fellow member of NATO, throwing out references to genocide?

Throughout the past year, Greece has been conducting non-stop military exercises. Sometimes independently, sometimes within the framework of NATO, and sometimes with a support group, which situationally developed on a common hostility towards the Turks.
These are Cyprus, Egypt, Israel and Armenia. The main reason for the formation of such an amazing alliance was Ankara’s plans to develop gas fields on a disputed shelf in the Mediterranean Sea, as well as traditional threats against Cyprus. And the Egyptians got involved also because they have their own interests in Libya, which intersect with the Turkish ones. Roughly speaking, Marshal Khalifa Haftar is supported in Cairo, and Turkey sends drones to his opponents.

During their exercises, the Greeks nearly shot down a Turkish F-16 over the Aegean Sea. The Turkish pilot was just performing a NATO flight mission, and the Greek air defense on the island of Crete “highlighted” him with the S-300 guidance system radar. Again poetized death threats rained down on Athens.

And now the Greeks, together with the Egyptian special forces, were practicing landing (including by free fall) and “accidentally” landed on Lesvos and Samos, throwing armored vehicles there as well.

Lesvos and Samos, as well as the islands of the Dodecanese and Chios, are the sovereign territory of Greece. But according to the Treaty of Lausanne and its subsequent editions, this is a “demilitarized zone” in which Athens can keep only border guards.

There is no fully demarcated border in the Aegean Sea, neither by water nor by air. The large and strategically important islands of Lesvos, Chios and Samos are located close to the Turkish coast of Asia Minor.

It is impossible to demarcate the water space there according to known international rules. If you follow the 12-mile maritime rule, based on the Greek sovereignty of the islands, then the Aegean becomes a Greek lake. If, however, a 12-mile line is drawn, counting from the Turkish continental coast, then the islands will be surrounded by Turkish water space, their connection with Greece will be destroyed.

The same story with the airspace, which they tried to demarcate back in the 1930s (then the Germans and Italians came and there was no time for that). As a result, the Greeks fix a 6-mile zone of responsibility, which for Turkey is casus belli. Not a year goes by without someone being shot down, which predetermines the rush demand in both countries for Russian air defense systems like the same S-300 system.

By the way, fighter pilot Neil Erdogan, who was shot down by a Greek Mirage in 1996, is considered a national hero in Turkey.

The tiny island of Agios Efstratios has become a collective cemetery for Greek and Turkish pilots. Moreover, in the overwhelming majority of cases, we are talking about the so-called tactical provocations on the part of the Turks. Their F-16s fly into the Greek area of ​​responsibility, which Ankara considers theirs. Before the advent of Russian air defense systems among the Greeks, it all ended in classic air battles. Now it is enough to illuminate the Turkish fighter with a radar so that he goes to the east in afterburner. After that, shouts like “we will descend at night” and “we will repeat Izmir” begin from Ankara.

Of course, there is little to indicate the possibility of a large-scale war between the two NATO member countries, as was the case in 1974 in Cyprus. On the other hand, now much of what was previously impossible has become realistic. There is an opinion that the events in Ukraine convinced Ankara of the weakness of NATO, and such an impression could provoke the Turks to push through a forceful solution, if not in the Aegean Sea, then around the disputed gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea.

While Athens is torn between fulfilling its obligations within the framework of the North Atlantic Alliance (including the supply of weapons to the Armed Forces of Ukraine) and trying to maintain parity in the Aegean Sea, Ankara is behaving rather aggressively. Yes, Turkish leaders and diplomats have long and regularly used ornate oriental speech (after all, Minister Cavusoglu is one of the ideologists of pan-Turkism and neo-Ottomanism, which implies the return of the lands of the former Ottoman Empire in the Balkans). But with each new incident in the Aegean Sea or the airspace over the islands, their rhetoric becomes more and more dangerous.

The Greeks remain silent, although their behavioral narrative also revolves around revanchism. The “Asia Minor catastrophe” of 1922 has already turned into an element of ethnography and culinary tourism in ninety years: all the names of restaurants and local dishes containing the word “polis” refer to the culture of the Greeks of Asia Minor (“the city” was colloquially called only Constantinople).

The Greeks of Asia Minor who survived in 1922 left not so much for Greece as for Europe and the USA (the Onassis is an example of this), and they never had a strong influence on the foreign policy of Athens. But the narrative remained.

Incidentally, Greece recently opposed the introduction of a price ceiling for Russian oil, not because it loves Russia, but because the Greek tanker fleet transports this oil.

And the resulting traffic jam on the Bosphorus, organized by the Turkish authorities, hit just the income of Greece. Tellingly, in the midst of another outbreak of conflict over the islands of the Aegean Sea.

For several years, no consultations between Turkey and Greece on the issue of the Aegean were held at all. At the very least, they resumed in January of this year, but by the summer they were disrupted due to regular incidents.

The conflict looks unsolvable, if we operate with the usual diplomatic norms. It’s just that the geography of the disputed region is such that the usual norms of international law do not work there. In such complex cases, you need to look for non-standard methods such as the same demilitarization of the islands. But then part of the continental coast of Turkey should be demilitarized, and Ankara will never agree to this.

The search for something else non-standard is also difficult for national-historical and ethnic reasons. A separate story is the crisis with refugees from Asia and Africa, as a result of which the Aegean Islands turned into a huge transshipment base, and the mafia became internationalized. But this is the tip of the iceberg, under which, after all, historical ambitions. Which risk developing into real clashes.

Source: News-Front