The conflicts between individual NATO members are becoming more and more difficult for the alliance to sweep under the carpet – especially one of its most noticeable “cracks”, which exists between Greece and Turkey.
Against the background of deteriorating relations with Ankara, the White House has already stopped even trying to hide that it is searching for an alternative to Turkey and its Turkish bases in the region, increasingly focusing on “developing cooperation with Greece” over recent months. And this, in particular, was demonstrated by call of the American aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower to a port on the Greek island of Crete in March, and even Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was hosted on board, who managed to hold a telephone conversation with American President Joe Biden. It is noteworthy that Joseph Biden, in his telephone conversation with Mitsotakis, said that the American ship “arrived at the Greek port to help Greece, to support it” and conveyed his congratulations to the Greek people on the 200th anniversary of their liberation from Turkish rule. In the Turkish media, the statements made by Biden caused criticism and discontent, and they call it “overt steps by the Biden administration to complicate US-Turkish relations”.
This is the first time in the past 40 years that this kind of American military vessel has entered these waters. It should also be kept in mind that the Greek city of Larissa is home to American MQ-9 Reaper combat drones, and the Greek city of Alexandroupoli is home to a port that plays a key role in the rotation of US troops in Europe.
In March, the US ambassador to Athens, Geoffrey Pyatt, stated that, as reported by the Turkish news outlet Haber7, the US was ready to sell Greece F-35 jets instead of delivering them to Turkey, which it initially clearly planned to. At the same time, the head of the American diplomatic mission indicated that the infrastructure necessary to service the F-35s and all its operations could be created in five years. As the US representative emphasized, this step will undoubtedly contribute to the implementation of a new defense program announced by Athens in September 2020, one geared toward modernizing the Greek army.
During his recent speech at the US Center for Strategic and International Studies, Greek Defense Minister Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos emphasized that the US and Greece are going to expand military cooperation in the Mediterranean, reaching “unprecedented heights” in this area, reports Contra Magazin. At the same time, the Greek military leader announced that over the summer the countries will sign a new security treaty that will provide the United States with “more space” for conducting “military activities in Greece”.
All this is happening against the backdrop of heightened tension in Athens’ relations with its NATO partner, Ankara; one of the reasons for this is the conflict over energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean. Relations between the United States and Turkey are also deteriorating, and if this continues it is possible that Greek bases will become an alternative to Turkish bases for conducting military operations, say many experts. However, so far Washington has not officially announced any plans to withdraw its troops from Turkey, where the Incirlik Air Base is located, as is American missile defense radar.
There is no doubt that the United States is seeking to ramp up its military presence in Greece, and in large part because of growing doubts about “Turkey’s credibility.” And this point of view was supported on May 24 by the Greek newspaper Kathimerini, citing its own sources. To lend support to these thoughts, the publication mentioned that in recent years the United States has strengthened military ties with Athens, deploying its forces at a naval base in Souda Bay and intending to add four more bases in Crete, Alexandroupoli, Larissa, and Stefanovikeio. For these additional deployments, Greece has already provided the United States with 22 possible options to choose from, Greek media outlets report. The Souda Naval Base is considered to be one of the key locations for US-Greek defense cooperation, and it was here that the Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement (MDCA) was signed between Athens and Washington last year.
These high-level contacts and events in the international arena directly affect the interests of both Greece and Turkey, and are adjusting the balance of relations with these countries. Specifically, the following were also devoted to that: an official visit made by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to Libya, the almost simultaneous visit made by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi to that same North African country, and a trip to Ankara made by President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and President of the European Council Charles Michel. And all this is happening against the backdrop of a constant resumption of threats and sanctions by the US State Department against Turkey due to its purchase of Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems and, in general, due to the Turkish-Russian rapprochement that has been going on in recent times.
And at the same time, clearly as revenge “for having an independent policy”, the United States thwarted Ankara’s largest military deal in history this past March. Speaking about this, the Turkish Presidential Press Secretary Ibrahim Kalin on March 8 reported on the US intervention in the delivery of 30 Turkish-made ATAK attack helicopters to Pakistan, despite the contract previously signed by Ankara and Islamabad worth $1.5 billion. To “talk some sense into” Ankara, Washington refused to grant Turkey a license to export its engines.
This “taming” of Ankara by Washington and other US allies on its explicit instructions, has been especially vigorous in recent months, confirming that a critical time has arrived in the relations between the United States and Turkey, which were not that strong even under Trump. One of its demonstrative moments was Biden’s announcement of the 1915 Armenian Genocide, which for Ankara was evidence that Washington had “crossed a line in the sand”. The Turkish reaction was expectedly harsh, including resounding calls to shut down American access to the strategically important Incirlik Air Base. The Americans were reminded about how the Turks were excluded from the F-35 fighter program, the support for the Kurds in Syria, and the fact that the United States gave refuge to the preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara considers to be the organizer of a 2016 coup d’etat attempt.
Actually, in a similar way, Biden recently tried to “tame” the Saudi crown prince. Judging by its actions, Washington is clearly trying to show that if Turkey displays sovereignty and independence in the foreign arena, that will be bad for the Turks, since Washington will cross all the “lines in the sand”, one after the other, that have been established in US-Turkish relations.
Under these conditions, it is not surprising that – besides the growth of anti-American sentiment – Turkey is now very jealous about the fact that Washington is increasingly showcasing its rapprochement with Athens, and moving away from Turkey.
Vladimir Odintsov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.