Turkey Escalates Tension With Greece: What is Ankara Up To?

Turkey has recently raised the ante of provocations against Greece raising tension in the eastern Mediterranean at a period when the two NATO supposed allies are expected to show unity in the face of the Russian threat to Ukraine.

Greece issued on Thursday a diplomatic protest, or demarche, to Turkey over the continued provocations of Turkish officials, including President Erdogan, who have been questioning the sovereignty of the Aegean islands.

Turkey will “intensify rhetoric against Greece”
Dr. Athanasios Drougos a diplomatic and defense analyst tells Greek Reporter that he expects Turkey to intensify its rhetoric against Greece in the coming weeks and months.

“Turkey wants to broaden the agenda of its demands against Greece. It aims to include the issue of the militarization of islands into a broader set of demands, including the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the status of islands such as Kastellorizo and the Greek right to extend territorial waters in the Aegean.”

Drougos says that Ankara is putting together a package of demands on various issues it has with Greece over the last 40 years aiming to present Athens to the international community as a delinquent state that systematically violates international treaties.

Grecian Delight supports Greece
“In the next few months, I expect Turkey to increase its provocative stance against Greece. Its rhetoric will be more hostile and it will seek to bring the package of demands to international fora, including perhaps the UN Security Council and NATO,” the Greek defense analyst says.

He notes that many defense analysts in Athens are worried that in a period when NATO is preoccupied with Ukraine and Russia, Turkey may use the opportunity to launch a limited military operation in the Aegean.

Drougos does not share this view. He believes that Turkish provocations against Greece will intensify only in terms of rhetoric with an international audience in mind. As he underlines, “Turkey has been told by the US and NATO not to carry its rhetoric too far.”

International treaties and the Greece Turkey dispute
On Tuesday Turkey’s Erdogan warned Greece against attempts to arm the Aegean islands. “It is not possible for us to remain silent about the military activities carried out in violation of the agreements on the islands with disarmed status,” Erdogan said.

Greece absorbed the islands of Limnos, Samothrace, Lesvos, Samos, Chios and Ikaria from the Ottoman Empire in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13. It was officially awarded sovereignty over them in the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923.

Another treaty drawn up in London in 1914 had made Greek possession of the islands conditional on their demilitarization. Turkey says that since the Lausanne Treaty makes reference to the 1914 treaty, it implies the same conditionality.

Turkey also says that the demilitarization of the islands is also enshrined in the 1947 Paris Treaty when Italy ceded to Greece full sovereignty the Dodecanese Islands.

Greece rejects all Turkish demands. Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias speaking in Moscow on Friday made it clear that, for example, the agreement on the demilitarization of the Dodecanese was not related to Turkey, but to the concerns of the then Soviet Union.

“The Soviet Union was the beneficiary of the demilitarization, Turkey is not a signatory to the Treaty, and therefore derives no rights from it,” Dendias said.

Turkey posing a real threat to Greece’s islands
Drougos says that despite the legal arguments and the interpretation of international law, Turkey poses a real threat to the Greek islands of the eastern Aegean, and under the UN Charter Greece has a right to defend its territory.

“Given the experience, Greece has with Turkey on Cyprus and other incidents targeting Greek islets in the Aegean, it has decided to place some military units in the islands. Forces that are brigade strength have been deployed in the islands of Rhodes, Lesvos, Chios, Kos and Samos.”

He adds, however, that there is no heavy military equipment deployed that could pose any real threat to Turkey.

The opposite happens he argues. Turkey has deployed a big force opposite the Greek islands – the 4th Army based in Izmir – which has offensive capabilities and it is often conducting drills that include maritime landing scenarios.

Drougos says that in the face of Turkish provocations, Greece is planning its own diplomatic “counter-attack.” He notes that in the recent diplomatic protest against Turkey, Athens includes a whole series of issues beyond the militarization of islands.

Among them Turkey’s 1995 threat to go to war with Greece – the so-called “casus belli” – if Athens exercises its legal right to extend its territorial waters out to 12 nautical miles, the illegal Turkey-Libya memorandum on maritime zones, and the “Blue Homeland” rhetoric.

The Foreign Ministry also instructed the Greek embassies in the European Union, NATO and the members of the UN Security Council to brief them on the escalation of Turkey’s activities.