Turkey-Greece Tensions Rise With A Risk Of Conflict Ahead Of Elections

Nearly every summer, tensions between Turkey and Greece rise in step with national elections on either side of the Aegean; this time, however, both countries’ nationalistic discourses are reaching an unprecedented fever pitch.

Untold Legal Principles Favouring Turkey in Aegean Maritime Disputes

In his latest analysis for War on the Rocks, Ryan Gingeras, a professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School, wrote that the potential of war between Greece and Turkey could be a serious concern.

According to Gingeras, mutual hostility is nothing new in Turkish-Greek relations, but this time things are getting more serious; all this despite rapprochement efforts between the two after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

For him, “[…] relations between Greece and Turkey have deteriorated rapidly”, with Athens decrying “an ‘unprecedented’ number of airspace violations by armed Turkish aircraft over Greece’s Aegean islands” by the end of April 2022.

This led Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to later lobby US Congress to oppose the sale of F-16s to Turkey.

In response, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that he no longer “recognizes” Greece’s prime minister, thus ending the possibility of direct talks in the future.

“More ominously, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu issued a statement accusing Athens of unlawfully ‘militarizing’ its territories in the Aegean Sea. Should Greece refuse to ‘demilitarize’ its Aegean islands, Cavusoglu warned that Greek sovereignty over its territories would be considered ‘debatable’,” Gingeras noted.

According to Gingeras, both governments have ramped up their divisive rhetoric in the run-up to elections taking place within a new and precarious international landscape characterized by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The popularity of Mitsotakis’ governing New Democracy Party has slipped in recent public polling, leading to questions over whether it would remain generally centrist or drift further right. The need to shore up his base and election prospects weigh even more heavily on Erdogan’s mind. With inflation running rampant and the popularity of his own party beginning to slip, his own re-election hopes have begun to flag,” Gingeras continued.

Still, Gingeras predicts that Turkey’s current posture in the Aegean is not solely the product of domestic politics; “Erdogan may sense a moment of opportunity to pursue a broad set of revisionist goals in its near abroad,” he added.

Athens has also been modernizing its armed forces and arming islands near the Turkish coastline while simultaneously courting the US and France, both of which have experienced severe deterioration of their relations with Turkey and its strongman president.

This is seen as a provocation by Ankara, and according to Gingeras, Turkey’s expressions of insecurity are similar in tone to those uttered by Russia before it invaded Ukraine.

“Like Russian supporters of Putin’s war against Ukraine, prominent voices in Turkey similarly see the Aegean as a potential front in a proxy struggle against the United States. It may be this fear that has led Erdogan’s government to reiterate its threat to ‘take matters further’ in challenging Greek sovereignty in the Aegean,” he argues.

“If the current crisis in Ukraine imparts any lesson, it is that one should not underrate the risk of conflict. A war between Greece and Turkey is not only possible but perhaps, at some point, probable,” he predicted.

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