By John SolomouNicosia [Cyprus] June 6 (ANI): Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, taking advantage of the fact that international attention is focused on the war in Ukraine, has made a flurry of provocative statements against Greece – one of his favourite targets – and threatens to launch a new operation in Syria, hoping to increase his falling popularity among the economically hard-press Turkish people.
Last week, President Erdogan announced that he was cutting off all contact with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis because of an address the Greek leader made to the U.S. Congress, urging it to keep blocking the sale of sophisticated weapons to Turkey. Erdogan was also angry because the Greek Prime Minister during his visit to the United States sealed a deal for the supply of F-35 fighter jets to Greece.
It is recalled that in a high-profile meeting in Istanbul on 13 March Erdogan and Mitsotakis had agreed to work for better communication between them, avoid provocative rhetoric, reduce tensions between the two countries and work for stability in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Since Mitsotakis’ US visit, there has been an unprecedented surge in violations by Turkish military aircraft of Greek airspace, a Turkish exploratory vessel was sent to the Aegean and Ankara has increased refugee flows to Greece.
This week Turkey repeated its demands that Greece demilitarizes its east Aegean islands, saying that it will challenge their sovereignty otherwise. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu even went as far as presenting a map of 14 islands whose sovereignty could be challenged by Turkey.
In an interview with Reuters Greek Premier Mitsotakis stated that the Greek Government cannot accept preposterous allegations pertaining to the sovereignty of Greek islands and added:”Greece will not tolerate aggressive behavior, revisionist rhetoric, and actions which amount to violations of Greek sovereign rights and Greek sovereignty. I think it is up to Turkey to change its behavior. We’ve never been the ones pushing the boundary in terms of aggressiveness, but we are very confident that we have the ability to defend ourselves should the need arise. And we’re also very confident that we have allies that support us: the European Union and the United States.”On Wednesday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called on Turkey to show restraint toward Greece. His spokesman said: “Invading Greek airspace and flying over Greek islands is not okay, it seems counterproductive and against the spirit of the NATO Alliance.”On Friday Turkey summoned the Greek Ambassador to Ankara in connection with a protest held near the Turkish Embassy in Athens, which was organized by Kurds living in Greece, who according to Turkey, are members of the outlawed PKK.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry claims that Athens is turning a blind eye to terror groups, is harbouring terrorists and is allowing them to carry out propaganda against Turkey, as well as engage in financing and recruitment activities. Moreover, it accused Greece of being “a safe haven” for people associated with terrorism.
It is noted that Ankara uses the same argument of harbouring terrorist organizations as the reason why it objects to Finland and Sweden’s bid to join NATO, spoiling in this way the picture of unity cultivated by the West since the start of the war in Ukraine.
It is generally believed that Erdogan is blocking the enlargement of NATO with these two Nordic countries in order to extract concessions from the West.
Trying to exploit the fact that Russia is fully occupied with its war in Ukraine, President Erdogan apparently thinks that the present time is the right moment to implement his old plan of establishing a 30-kilometre security zone along Turkey’s southern border with Syria.
So, he declared that he would launch an operation in Syria because both Russia and the United States failed to apply an agreement to keep the militants of the YPG (Kurdish People’s Protection Units) away from Turkey’s border. Erdogan also said that the Turkish Army would launch a mopping-up operation in the Syrian towns of Manjib and Tal Rifaat, which are under the control of the YPG.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last Wednesday warned Turkey against a military offensive in Syria, saying it would put the region at risk. Moreover, he asked Erdogan to respect the cease-fire lines agreed in 2019.
Blinken said that a new Turkish offensive “It’s something that we would oppose, as it would undermine regional stability and provide malign actors with opportunities to exploit instability.”It is unlikely that the US will be willing to stop supporting the YPG Kurdish military forces in Syria as they see them as a vital line of defense against a possible resurgence of the Islamic State and as an obstacle to the expansion of Iranian influence in Syria.
Russia also reacted to Erdogan’s plans to launch an operation in Syria. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement, “We hope that Ankara will refrain from actions that could lead to a dangerous deterioration of the already difficult situation in Syria. Such a move, in the absence of the agreement of the legitimate government of the Syrian Arab Republic, would be a direct violation of Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and would cause a further escalation of tensions in Syria.”However, it seems that Erdogan is confident that a confluence of circumstances both international and domestic favor his intended operation in Syria. The Russians are unlikely to react forcefully as they are preoccupied with the war in Ukraine, while the US needs Erdogan to stop blocking Finland and Sweden’s bid to join NATO.
Domestically, it will be an excellent way of distracting Turkish public opinion from the catastrophic state of the Turkish economy, with inflation soaring above 75 percent, as Erdogan’s plans to relocate more than a million Syrian refugees from Turkey to the “liberated zone” he plans to create, will be very popular among the Turkish population, which views the Syrian refugees as a very big problem. (ANI),