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21 November, 2019
 
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The uncertain landscape to the east

The power maneuvers in Turkey are fierce and uncertain

Alexis Papachelas

Alexis Papachelas

One of the Greek government’s biggest problems is its inability to get a clear reading of Turkey’s – or rather of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s – intentions.

Greece is not the only country facing this conundrum. The Americans, the Germans and others are also struggling. The situation, meanwhile, has only become more complicated in recent months. People who were regarded as reliable channels of communication with the “sultan” himself have either fallen out of favor or are being kept at arm’s length.

The power maneuvers in Turkey are fierce and uncertain, both at the palace and among the ranks of the deep state. Sometimes they concern Ankara’s stance toward Greece, meaning whether it will deliberately turn up the tension beyond Cyprus and Kastellorizo. It is clear that the pressure on Cyprus will continue unabated until the “moment of truth.”

The messages coming in via various channels indicate that Ankara does not want to – or perhaps cannot withstand – a further heightening of tension. There are no assurances in these messages, of course, just a desire to convey reassurances that Erdogan’s milieu is eager to cultivate.

Every so often, information will reach Athens pointing to third countries moving in the opposite direction. It also hears pleas for moderation and conversation between allied governments before a mishap or misunderstanding escalates the situation dangerously.

The recently elected government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis is having to navigate an uncertain landscape, at least until the prime minister holds talks with Erdogan on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. The most important thing at this point is to ensure that the lines of communication always remain open. “You should never burn your bridges when it comes to the Turks,” is what one veteran diplomat used to advise.

It is also important for the Greek armed forces to stick to the philosophy that has been formed over the years. It needs to maintain the clear red lines that cannot be crossed without consequence, but also to nip any possible misunderstandings in the bud and deal with any mishaps that could leads to an uncontrolled and unplanned escalation.

The need for such a calm and controlled approach was the biggest lesson we learned from the Imia crisis in 1996 and it is one that has become deeply entrenched among Greece’s military and diplomatic corps.

Greece also needs to be constantly vigilant so that it does not accidentally precipitate any needless tension or misinterpret the messages coming from the other side of the Aegean Sea.

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