More ten­sion on hori­zon

Athens ex­pects un­pleas­ant­ness with Ankara to last un­til 2019 Turkish elec­tions

Kathimerini English - - Front Page -

Athens is re­port­edly pre­par­ing – on a po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and mil­i­tary level – for a stand­off with Ankara that could last up to two years, as the gov­ern­ment says the re­cent spike in Turkish provo­ca­tions is part of a plan to bring its claims in the Aegean Sea back to the fore.

An­a­lysts say that the harsh rhetoric com­ing from Turkey is di­rectly linked to the up­com­ing ref­er­en­dum on April 16 on whether to ex­pand the pow­ers of the pres­i­dent. Turkish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Erdogan has tried to woo vot­ers by play­ing the na­tion­al­ist card. The stakes couldn’t be higher for Erdogan, as a no vote could plunge the neigh­bor­ing coun­try into an even deeper cri­sis.

How­ever, it is be­lieved that the provo­ca­tions are driven by more than just a pop­ulist ef­fort to ap­peal to a do­mes­tic au­di­ence, as Ankara has, at the same time, rein­tro­duced talk of “gray ar­eas” in Aegean, es­sen­tially dis­put­ing Greece’s sovereignty. Greece’s de­ci­sion not to ex­tra­dite eight Turkish ser­vice­men to Turkey and this week’s asylum ap­pli­ca­tions of two more of­fi­cers – al­legedly in­volved in a plot to as­sas­si­nate Erdogan – are not mak­ing mat­ters any eas­ier be­tween the two coun­tries.

Given this con­text, Athens is pre­par­ing for more ten­sion in the pe­riod be­yond the April ref­er­en­dum, stretch­ing all the way to the na­tional elec­tions in Turkey in 2019. The ten­sion be­tween the two NATO al­lies is not lost on the US State Depart­ment. But other than en­cour­ag­ing both sides to re­solve their dif­fer­ences through di­a­logue, not much more can be ex­pected from the US as long as the po­si­tion of US as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state for Euro­pean and Eurasian Af­fairs – once oc­cu­pied by the likes of Richard Hol­brooke and Vic­to­ria Nu­land and which served as a di­rect line of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with for­eign cap­i­tals – re­mains va­cant. For its part, Athens is do­ing its ut­most to es­tab­lish lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the White House through other chan­nels, in­clud­ing Israel, whose Prime Min­is­ter Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu ap­pears to en­joy a good rap­port with US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Greece is bank­ing on its strong ties with Israel, Egypt – Trump and Pres­i­dent Ab­del Fat­tah Al-Sisi have a very good re­la­tion­ship – and Cyprus to con­vince the White House that all four coun­tries are a be­drock of sta­bil­ity in the Eastern Med.

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