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27 May, 2024
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Our neighborhood just got unpredictable again

Erdogan's diplomatic bombshell and its implications for Greek-Turkish relations

Alexis Papachelas

Alexis Papachelas

This part of the world has always been full of surprises. The most recent came on Friday afternoon when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at the United States and Israel and said he was calling off a planned visit to Washington. This is an extremely important – if not crucial – development that will certainly have an impact on Greek-Turkish relations, but also on the security architecture in the East Mediterranean.

Athens had been banking on a period of tranquility in the Aegean that was based on the admission that Ankara needed “calm waters” in its relationship with the US in its bid to secure the upgrade and purchase of new F-16 fighter jets. The manner in which this calm in Greek-Turkish relations would be maintained had been agreed and forged over a significant period of time by the American ambassadors in Athens and Ankara. Berlin also played a backstage role, but the Americans were the protagonists.

Following Erdogan’s recent outburst, however, it is unlikely that Congress will give the green light to Ankara’s demands. The Turkish president’s actions will be downplayed by the usual apologists at the State Department, but it will be an uphill battle for them.

Two key questions remain: Why did Erdogan drop this bombshell and will it lead to another period of heightened tension in the Aegean?

The answer to the first question most likely lies in psychology. There are many who believe that following developments in Gaza, Erdogan has started seeing himself as the leader of a superpower but also as the leader of a global Muslim alliance against Israel and the West.

Someone who sees himself in such a role will do unreasonable things and ignore the advice of technocrats and diplomats. It is a messianic attitude. Perhaps he’s been influenced by Russian President Vladimir Putin, or perhaps he’s betting on having a different counterpart in the White House come January.

As for Greek-Turkish relations, we will need to see what this sudden tension in Ankara’s ties with Washington will mean. An Erdogan who is not interested in the F-16s or in a meeting with US President Joe Biden can easily go back to a policy of overflights and provocations.

Washington will need to decide what stance it will adopt and whether it will abandon its illusions. There is no doubt that certain people will come forward to propose that approval of the F-35 agreement with Greece be put on hold until the dust settles with Ankara and it becomes clearer whether Turkey will get its F-16s.

Either way, we are looking at a whole new ballgame as the neighborhood becomes unpredictable once more.

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