Although the provocations in the Aegean Sea by Turkish war jets has not stopped for a single day since the coronavirus pandemic broke out, the intensity and number of violations has certainly decreased. Air Force officials have noted that both the illegal entry of Turkish aircraft into Greek airspace has recently been curtailed.
However, the Turks insist on their challenges against Greece, albeit with less intensity. In the pre-crisis period there were many entries of Turkish aircraft into the Athens Flight Information Region. Usually 15 to 20 F-16 jets would violate Greece’s airspace, however now there are only one or two pairs entering, simply wanting to show their presence in the Aegean to constantly question Greece’s national sovereign rights.
For example, on Thursday only a pair of Turkish aircraft entered Greece illegally between the island of Lemnos and Lesvos, and were immediately stopped by Greek fighter jets and chased out.
Has anything changed in the Aegean? Air Force officials are monitoring the situation very carefully and are not drawing any immediate conclusions. The number of Turkish fighters entering the Athens FIR may have decreased, the number of dog fights may have decreased, the length of stay of Turkish F-16s in the skies of the Aegean may have decreased, but the violations continue.
Overflights over islands and islets continue, spy flights continue and the Turks continue to insist on challenging Greece’s national sovereignty.
The coronavirus pandemic has limited Turkish provocations, but has not eliminated them. Something has changed in Turkey’s behaviour and is a fact. But why?
Not only are Turkish fighters no longer entering the FOR en masse, they have also withdrawn illegal immigrants from the Greek-Turkish land border, withdrawn floating drilling rigs from Cypriot waters, restricted military exercises and avoid mooring Turkish frigates and other warships in their own ports by staying offshore.
Turkish military aircraft in 2019 violated Greece’s airspace 4,811 times, the largest number in one calendar year since 1987.
However, 2019 Turkey was brimming with confidence, so much so that it planned for an invasion of Syria’s Idlib province and funded jihadists in Libya to support the Muslim Brotherhood government that is being deposed by the Libyan National Army.
Not only did Turkey fail to invade Idlib and Libya earlier this year, it also failed to asymmetrically invade Greece last month with illegal immigrants. The invasion of Idlib, Libya and Greece became a higher priority than the coronavirus pandemic, but this is a choice Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is probably regretting as his country struggles to control the spread of infection.
Official sources say there are just over 42,000 infections and 900 deaths in Turkey, but any journalist or social media user who disputes these figures are arrested. At a time when coronavirus was devastating Europe, a pro-Erdoğan television channel was debating whether Turkish genetics could protect the population from the infection.
Erdoğan wasted billions of dollars in his failed attempts to invade Greece, Idlib and Libya, and now the coronavirus has slowed the economy in Turkey down.
Foreign Policy explains that “The lira has depreciated over 14 percent against the U.S. dollar this year to date, putting further strain on Turkey’s overleveraged nonfinancial companies that have foreign exchange liabilities totaling some $300 billion (one-third in short-term loans). As the country’s struggling businesses continue to experience shrinking revenues, the lira equivalent of servicing their foreign exchange liabilities has grown 20 percent over the last 12 months.”
Turkey’s finance and treasury minister who is also Erdoğan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, has “burned through $65 billion of the bank’s reserves to shore up the faltering lira,” according to Foreign Policy.
Erdoğan boldly announced that as part of his “2023 Vision,” Turkey will become a Top 10 economy. However, by squandering billions of dollars in military adventurism, nepotism and corruption, all paired with the coronavirus pandemic, this goal is not even remotely achievable.
As a result of his failures, it now appears that Turkey does not even have the funds anymore to apply any real pressure against Greece, making the skies a little more calmer than Greece is accustomed to from its expansionist-minded neighbour. Turkey wants Greece to retaliate against their provocations to legitimise starting a war, but it now appears their efforts has only wasted money and weakened their military capabilities, and coronavirus had a large part to play.