France has reached an agreement with Greece for the provision of 18 Rafale frigates over the next two years for Athens’ navy. Of these, 12 are used and six are brand new. This operation is estimated to cost the Greek government at least 2.5 billion US dollars. A vast array of motivations lies behind this commercial agreement, overall suggesting for the future a possible extensive rearming of Greece.
For how alarming, Greece’s assertiveness is not exceptional. It has had impressive timing. The meeting between the French and Hellenic ministers of Defense, Florence Parly and Nikos Panagiotopoulos took place on the same day when, in Istanbul, it was held the first round of the 61st edition of the Greek-Turkish talks on maritime borders.
The outcome of this meeting was also easily predictable: rescheduled for March 2021. The two leaders did so hoping their countries would gain a better understanding and grip over the pandemic, but it does not clearly stop here. On one side, Athens considers it unlikely to leave the talks with an outcome that would not penalise it strategically. On the other side, Ankara’s demands are the same as in the sixty previous meetings: revising the borders in consideration of the Anatolian Continental Shelf, which would halve Greece’s geographical reach.
Greece’s complex relations with Turkey, together with internal problems such as poor management, a faltering economy, and its undermined welfare have contributed to sparking anti-Erdogan feelings. These, wisely fuelled at distance by Macron, and not-too-secretly supported by the E.U. in general, have attracted much attention in the aftermath of Biden’s election in the U.S. Set to dictate regional stability for the half part of the century, hostilities between Greece and Turkey on migration, asylum, human rights, oil, and, basically, everything else have attracted the attention of the two superpowers, Germany being too Turk-dependant to have a say.
For more than a year now, Athens has been very close friends with France and the United States, competing to modernize its armed forces. Already last week, Panagiotopoulos gave a first update on the department of American F16 built by Lockheed Martin, while on the 25th he spoke with Parly for a future supply of Belharra frigates (the purchasing agreement was approved but then suspended right after). Even if this agreement does not come true, Athens is willing to replace the French frigates with some U.S. ones.
Greece is also coming from a twenty-year agreement with Israel for the creation of a Greek military aviation school in the South for 1.68 billion dollars, which included ten M-346 aircraft and equipment for logistical support, in addition to a dozen T-6 training aircraft. The continuation of the Greek-Turkish arms race reveals how the conflict is only momentarily on hold, and we are facing a strategic timeout, rather than enjoying some phantasmagorical truce. It is strategic because it serves to reorder ideas and foresee eventual counter-moves, also in the light of the first 100 days of the new U.S. president.
Much preparation, even if likely unnecessary, is to the benefit of both. Officially, deterrence, or at least of control over its narrative, is fundamental for the ruling party as it legitimizes anything done internally scapegoating on the external enemy. Conversely, deterrence is, for its unofficial part, searched for and needed, as open confrontation would be simply not possible in this area, where the interest of Russia and the U.S. are at the front door of the EU.
In the meantime, mandatory national service in the Greek Armed Forces will increase from nine to twelve months starting in May 2021. And Parly has already announced that France will join two Greek military exercises by the end of the year, bringing the same Rafale frigates supplied to the Hellenic aviation.
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