by Aggelos Skordas
Greece’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Kotzias indicated that Turkey came close to overstepping the red lines Greece has set in the Aegean but apparently did not cross them. Specifically, in an interview with SKAI TV aired on Tuesday night, Kotzias said: “[The Turks] came close to overstepping a red line in one or two cases, but did not cross it” referring to an incident off the coasts of Imia islets on February when a Turkish patrol boat rammed the Greek off-shore vessel “Gavdos” after entering Greek territorial waters.
“If there was not calmness and composure on the Greek side, nobody knows where this ramming could have led”, he characteristically pointed out in regards to the recent incident that took place off the islets that brought Athens and Ankara to the brink of war in 1996, adding that “in such cases you either respond with bravado and bluster or you continue with efforts to appease”.
When asked to comment on the increased Turkish aggression in the Aegean that could lead to yet another “hot incident” with unpredicted results, Kotzias estimated that Ankara realises Greece is not Afrin: “Turkey counts the cost and profits of such a move and knows that the cost against Greece will be many times bigger and maybe too big to bear compared to other countries and also takes in consideration the chances of winning -Greece is not Afrin- [Turkey] realises that it would not only be costly but it could also lose. And I think that is why it becomes reasonable. I do not believe that Turkey and its leadership are completely absurd. They may say one word or the other but they count. And we must not leave them any space or possibility to take action that is detrimental to our interests.”
In regards to recent remarks by NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who indicated Athens and Ankara should address their differences on a bilateral level, as the Alliance’s role is not to intervene in disputes between two member states, the Greek Foreign Minister compared NATO with Pontius Pilate: “I am familiar with NATO’s policies […] It wants to act like Pontius Pilate but you can not play passive Pontius Pilate. You have to produce politics and ideas.”
Commenting on the two Greek army officers held in a maximum security prison in Edirne for two months pending trial for crossing into Turkish territory during a routine border patrol, Kotzias said “Turkey’s behavior shows a change of attitude. It is not the same Turkey, with which we used to exchange soldiers who crossed over and were arrested. I have a whole file [of such cases] on my desk. Right now Turkey is using them in a different way. I avoided speaking from the start about the issue because my speculation was that there is a moment when the Turks change their behavior, and this is one of those cases”.
The Greek Foreign Minister ruled out the possibility of an agreement between the two countries for the exchange of the Greek officers with the eight Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece after the failed Turkish coup attempt in July 2016 and have requested for asylum.