Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to call for snap elections on June 24 is of direct consequence to Greece, more than at any other time, as the Turkish president increasingly espouses a nationalist stance and invests in the political gains this brings him.
His convergence with the far-right Nationalist Movement Party of Devlet Bahceli confirms that this explosion of nationalist fervor is a strategic decision made by Erdogan. There is good reason why Athens and Nicosia are troubled by the extreme stance he has adopted in recent months, which is not restricted to rhetoric but is also reflected in the military operation he initiated in Syria, as well as in the aggressive behavior in the Aegean and toward Cyprus. More so as a pre-election period offers itself for nationalist posturing and public proclamations, and also moves of exaggerated patriotism by both the government and the opposition.
The stance that has so far been adopted by the Kemalist opposition – which often raps Erdogan for being too soft toward Athens and accuses him of “giving up” too many Aegean islands to Greece – is exacerbating the situation and confirms the fears of the Greek and Cypriot leaderships.
Regardless of whether all this is for domestic consumption – as Erdogan sees it strengthening him politically – or whether the Turkish leader truly believes that Turkey is a regional superpower that is “trapped” in the confines of its present borders because of past international treaties that do not correspond to the “borders of his heart” and thus need to be revised or updated, this outbreak of nationalism is creating an extremely dangerous situation in the Aegean.
It is telling that even third countries, the United States among them, are publicly voicing concern over the danger of an “accident.”
On the other hand, one could also argue that if the elections were to take place on November 3, 2019, as originally planned, the situation could become even more perilous in that this spike in tensions, in the Aegean as well as in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone, would have extended over a full 18 months.
In either case, Greece’s only reaction to the volatile environment that will take shape during the pre-election period in Turkey can be none other than keeping the international community briefed on all developments, maintaining close cooperation with its partners and allies abroad, and, on the domestic scene, keeping the armed forces in a state of operational readiness, while the political leadership must behave in a calm and responsible manner.