US calls to deescalate tension in the Aegean fell on deaf ears as NATO allies Greece and Turkey continued to trade accusations during Christmas, with Ankara accusing Athens of harassing Turkish aircraft and the Greek prime minister talking about a troublemaker neighbor.
Greek Foreign Minister Nicos Dendias on Sunday called Turkey a “troublemaker” a day after Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar accused Athens of continuing “to provoke and escalate tensions and its unlawful attitude.”
Last week Biden signed legislation including watered-down language about NATO countries not conducting unauthorized flyovers in another ally’s airspace, a clear reference to Turkey and Greece
Last week Greek fighter jets were scrambled over the Aegean where Turkish aircraft were carrying out an exercise mission, but the two foes disagreed on what exactly took place high up in the contested blue skies.
Ankara says Turkish and NATO aircraft were on a Nexus Ace training mission in international airspace around the Aegean Sea, where Greek jets reportedly radar-locked on Turkish jets. Turkish officials also say allies had been notified about the exercise 24 hours in advance.
"This hostile attitude clearly shows that Greece has become so arrogant that it disregards the basic principles and values of NATO. It's time for NATO to say 'stop' to this impertinence,” Akar said on Christmas Eve.
Turkey troublemaker & fake news
But on Christmas Day Athens refuted Ankara’s claims, with Greek media reporting that Dendias said Turkey was causing trouble and destabilizing the region.
“Greece’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity are not open to the slightest disputation or subject of discussion under any circumstances,” Dendias was quoted as saying.
Greek opposition SYRIZA official Georgios Katrougalos, who served as foreign minister briefly in 2019, also weighed in saying military sources had concluded that the description of NATO exercises on two different days was “fake news.”
“There was no NATO mission but a Turkish national exercise in which Turkish aircraft violated the FIR Athens and Greek National Airspace,” Katrougalos said.
Washington & calls for calm
“Greece is sending out a message of calm and resolve to effectively deal with all challenges,” Dendias also stated on Sunday.
Last week, just after news about the incident, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price issued a call during a press conference on both Greece and Turkey to tone things down.
In response to a question about plans for a meeting between Greek and Turkish officials in Brussels, Price said “the tensions within an alliance, between two alliance members, certainly does not help anyone.”
Price was also asked about US Senator Bob Menendez who is against sending F-16 jets and repair kits to Turkey. The foreign relations committee chair also accused Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over statements the NATO country’s leader made about Greece.
Turkey warns Greece
“If you don’t stay calm, if you try to buy something from here and there, from America to the islands, a country like Turkey will not be a bystander. It has to do something,” Erdogan said after boasting about his country’s missile program.
Price did not comment specifically on Menendez’ stance but said “this is a time, we think, when unity within the alliance and between and among allies is especially important.”
“We regret the escalation of tensions between two allies, especially between two such important NATO Allies. It doesn’t serve anyone’s interests, and we continue to support all efforts to de-escalate those tensions, including the efforts that are being undertaken now or have been undertaken in Brussels,” Price said.
Menendez block & Turkish-made jets
Menendez, a friend of Cyprus, and other pro-Greek US lawmakers have been at odds with government agencies and the White House over language referring to Turkey in recent defense budget legislation.
Days before Christmas, US President Joe Biden signed the National Defense Authorization Act into law, which includes watered-down language about NATO countries not conducting unauthorized flyovers in another NATO ally’s airspace, a clear reference to Turkey and Greece.
Last year Ankara requested new F-16 jets from the United State as well as modernization kits for the American fighting falcons, a $6 billion deal that is currently on hold.
In late 2020 Menendez took credit for US sanctions against Turkey. Around the same time, Erdogan praised an engine test that signaled Ankara could be pushing forward with the country’s first indigenous fighter jet.