Turkish air violations against Greece have reduced but not ended, said Defence Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos when speaking to the main news bulletin of ERT on Wednesday night.
Panagiotopoulos said that in the coming days the political leadership of the Greek Air Force will inform the Parliament about the program that will strengthen the Greek Air Force with 5th generation aircraft, however he added that the first aircraft will arrive in about five years.
"It is a complex process to produce them but also to create the appropriate infrastructures" he noted.
The minister also referred to the latest developments in Greek-Turkish relations, saying that after the devastating earthquakes, airspace violations by Turkish aircraft have decreased tenfold, but they have not been eliminated.
"From 1,000 violations in January, we fell to 100 between February 6 and 20. Also, armed fighter jets have not entered," noted Panagiotopoulos.
He also assessed that Greek-Turkish relations have not entered a new phase.
"I'm not sure we've entered a new phase," Panagiotopoulos said, adding that Athens has always been ready for a dialogue with Turkey to build new Confidence Building Measures (CBM) but as he emphasised, "this dialogue cannot take place in the shadow of provocative rhetoric."
"It must be done in a climate of recession," he added.
Panagiotopoulos mentioned that Greece sent aid... in broad daylight and this was appreciated in Turkey.
Regarding the war in Ukraine, the defence minister was asked if US Secretary of State Antony Blinken requested the sending of the Russian-made S-300 missile defence system that Greece possesses to Kiev.
"In all the meetings, the Americans ask for the reinforcement of Ukraine with weapon systems. It is known that in the past we were asked to send the Russian missiles. However, we cannot weaken our defence arrangement," noted Panagiotopoulos.
He added that "the reasons why the Greek state procured the Russian missiles are still valid".
It is recalled that US Senator Bob Menendez, who chairs the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, told the Delphi Economic Forum earlier this month in Washington that he has green lighted the sale of Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 fighter jets to Greece.
“I am pleased that two days ago I signed off for the F35-s to the Hellenic Republic and I did so not because I am simply a fan of the Greek people; I did so because this is a country that shares our values, that is aligned with us to things that are important in the world; democracy, human rights, rule of law, a country that is not belligerent to its neighbors,” Menendez said.
“When a country lines up in its values with us and there is also strategic interest, then I have no problem signing off as the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee with the jurisdiction of arms sales… But when a country exhibits the contrary to that, then yes I have a problem,” he said.
The decision must be approved by Senator Jim Risch, the top Republican on the committee, as well as by Rep Michael McCaul, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep Gregory Meeks of New York, the ranking Democrat on the same committee.
After this consensus has been obtained, which is estimated to be a matter of time, the US government will formally notify Congress of the sale of F-35s to Greece, and from there, the prescribed procedure for the ratification of the defense contract will be followed.
Elsewhere, Blinken expressed a cautious optimism that Greek-Turkish relations could improve in an interview with Greek TV channel Mega Tuesday.
Blinken deflected questions asking him directly about a NATO response if Turkey attacks Greece, its nominal NATO ally. He also said that, while he did talk about tensions between Greece and Turkey with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, that it would not be proper to reveal the content of their talks.
Before his two-day visit to Greece, on Monday and Tuesday, Blinken visited Turkey. He said in the interview that Turkey is currently focused with dealing with the aftermath of the disastrous earthquakes, adding that people there are absolutely scared, including with the continued seismic activity.
Blinken repeated his appreciation for Greece’s prompt aid to Turkey, but, while he said that “earthquake diplomacy” was helpful, he added that the fact that both countries are entering the campaign phase for national elections “complicates things.”
The Secretary of State added that he hopes Greece and Turkey can maintain the current, calmer climate in their bilateral relations and that “maybe” in the coming months, presumably after the elections, that the’ll find a way to engage in a dialogue that will help resolve longstanding disputes. If they could find away to resolve those disputes, “terrific opportunities” for both could arise.
It is evident that the US would like nothing better than to see harmonious relations between Greece and Turkey, but studiously avoid taking sides in the disputes, at least publicly. Blinken repeated the usual tropes of “good faith” and “sincere intentions” when asked about how Greece and Turkey could reconcile their differences.
Recent tense moments in US-Turkish relations and increased defense cooperation between Greece and the US have led Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to accuse the US of favoring Greece; he went further, saying that all US military activity in Greece and the number of military bases the Americans are using are aimed at Turkey, rather than to support Ukraine.
Speaking of Ukraine, Blinken praised Greece’s early support for the invaded nation and made it quite clear that he expected this support, including sending weapons systems, to continue.
When asked about US and NATO support in case Greece is invaded, Blinken was very positive, referring to Article 5 in the NATO Treaty guaranteeing the support of all NATO members to an invaded fellow member state.
When asked what would be done if Turkey invaded Greece, he changed tack, saying he could not answer a hypothetical question. But he repeated the US position that provocative rhetoric or actions must be avoided, because they could lead to an incident, even unintended.
Blinken supported the Biden administration’s position in favor of selling F-16 fighters and upgrade kits to Turkey, despite objections in the US Congress, saying the F-16 sale is crucial to ensure Turkey’s interoperability with other NATO members.
He avoided commenting on the position that the sale should be conditional on Turkey’s guaranteeing the fighters will not use for overflights of Greek airspace, although he did say the US takes allies’ security concerns seriously. He also mentioned Greece’s own acquisition of F-16s and upgrade kits, as well the future buying of the advanced F-35 fighter, a program from which Turkey has been excluded.
While Blinken praised Greece’s position as a hub for energy diversification efforts in the Mediterranean, he did not directly answer a question about explorations for natural gas, in which a US company, ExxonMobil is involved, in waters, off the island of Crete, whose jurisdiction is contested by Libya and Turkey.
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