Political “bluff” or real threat? Gambling in a tough diplomatic game or expression of realistic intentions? Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoglu’s warning to Athens – upgraded to an Erdogan ultimatum – that is if Greece did not demilitarize the Aegean islands, he would attempt to challenge Greek sovereignty over them was what was formally announced. With Sinirlioglu’s two letters to the UN in 2021. Letters which showed the direction that Ankara’s aggressive rhetoric would follow.

A strategic choice to shift the focus to the challenges now focused on casus belli – the threat of war if Greece extends its territorial waters from 6 to 12 nautical miles in the Aegean – in line with the “Blue Homeland” and the “Turkish-Libyan memorandum” going along with the theories of “gray zones”, which develop into a direct threat to Greek territorial sovereignty. To these should be added the accusation against Greece of fostering “terrorists” in refugee camps – such as Lavrio – and not only, with those who claim to be opposed to Erdogan, from the PKK to the Gulenists, or simply Democrats, being labeled as terrorists. A complaint that in the case of Cyprus was accompanied by a threat of intervention, on the occasion of the opening of the Kurdish office on the island. Ankara is also putting the Immigration-Refugee issue in this frame, continuing to use the issue as a tool and pointing at the Greek side in cooperation with Frontex for deportations and deaths of people trying to cross into Europe. Turkey and the Muslim community of Thrace are on the table, trying to convert a religious issue into one of ethnicity.

Exit from isolation

And if 2021 was characterized by relative calm, 2022, as diplomatic sources say to “NEA” newspaper, will be particularly difficult. Even without “Oruc Reyes” survey ship in the Aegean.

2023 is an election year for Erdogan, with Turkey in an ongoing economic crisis, which is draining citizens’ incomes and plunging their living standards. The instructions given to the Turkish diplomats at a recent meeting are that Ankara, in order to overcome the economic crisis, needs to normalize relations with its neighboring countries. The way out of “isolation”. It wants to restore relations even with countries like Armenia.

The steps have already started to be taken in 2021 and are bearing fruit, with Turkey returning, noisily dissolving its self-isolation. The answer of the Israeli ambassador in Athens, Yossi Amrani, to a question about the re-rapprochement of his country with Turkey, that “interests in international relations are changing, adapting” is also indicative. The announcement of the visit of the President of Israel, Isaac Herzog, to Ankara is also resounding. The fact that his visit to Athens will precede it is a communication victory, while it is estimated that Israel will hardly show confidence in Ankara. Erdogan also publicly advertised his rapprochement with the UAE, while Egypt remains a target. Turkey remains an important ally, albeit sometimes difficult for the United States.

Hot incident scenarios

Athens sees in Ankara’s game “nervousness” for the “strengthening” of the geopolitical and geostrategic footprint of Greece, but also an attempt to manage its internal problems. Diplomatic sources do not rule out that Turkey may try to transfer the tension from the diplomatic table to the field if it is considered “exploitable”, reaching an extreme scenario of creating an incident based on the narrative of the dispute over the sovereignty of the islands. A scenario in which some Turkish media are masters at acrobatic logic. Responding to Erdogan’s objections from Oslo, Greek foreign minister Nikos Dendias also linked the issue to NATO unity. With Athens wanting on the occasion of the Ukrainian crisis, to emphasize that there should not be two different standards within the Alliance and much more so within the EU, but threats should be treated the same, even if they come from Turkey. So far no one was able to find the perfect solution, which is not strange.

Exploratory contacts

In this climate, Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal is expected – all things being equal – in Athens for talks first with his counterpart Costas Frangogiannis and focusing on the positive agenda and then on conducting the 64th round of exploratory contacts. Demilitarization, as well as all of Turkey’s claims around the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean, are expected to be brought back to the table by the Turkish delegation.

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