US Takeover of Greece Pushes Türkiye Closer to Russia and Increases Odds of Athens-Ankara Conflict

Athens throws a decades-long good relationship with Moscow out the window and embraces US military and business interests.

US Takeover of Greece Pushes Türkiye Closer to Russia and Increases Odds of Athens-Ankara Conflict

Conor here. Yet another example of Kissinger's warning, 'It may be dangerous to be America's enemy, but to be America's friend is fatal.' But here both Greece and Türkiye may be cast as 'friends as losers'.

By Conor Gallagher

Greece's recent embrace of the US is being driven by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis who has been in power since July 2019 (and might get thrown out soon), but the effects will be felt for much longer and in the wider region – especially in Türkiye.

Greece's abandonment of its ties with Russia came to a head with the recent bombshell that it was considering sending Russian-made S-300 air defense missile systems to Ukraine. When Athens received the weaponry from Russia back in 1998 it agreed to never give it to another country (let alone one that is at war with Russia). But Athens' demonstration of its non-agreement capability is just another sign that it is now wholly in the US/NATO camp.

While the S-300 would make little difference on the Ukrainian battlefield, the escalating tensions between Greece and Türkiye are much more consequential. Many of the US moves in Greece seem designed to apply pressure on fellow NATO member Turkiye, which occupies the most important geostrategic position in the alliance and has its second-largest standing army.

But Ankara has steadfastly refused to apply sanctions on Russia and mutually beneficial ties between the two countries have grown much closer. Putin helps Erdogan boost the Turkish economy and in return gets a sanction-free link for exports and imports. But Washington refuses to accept this arrangement and has grown increasingly frustrated to the point that US war criminal John Bolton now wants to boot Turkiye out of NATO.

Such an outcome no longer seems unlikely. And a conflict between Greece and Türkiye is also becoming an increasing possibility – especially if Russia decides Greece is a lost cause and no longer works to restrain Türkiye.

It's unclear what Greece thinks it stands to gain in wholly throwing in its lot with the Americans who once supported the brutal military dictatorship in Greece in the 1960s and 70s. It appears to be more of an ideological mission by PM Mitsotakis who was educated in the US at Harvard, Stanford, and then Harvard Business School for an MBA. He went on to work for Chase Bank in London, McKinsey & Company, and in 2003 was nominated by the World Economic Forum as a global leader of tomorrow. That day has apparently come.

Mitsotakis has been lauded by the Wall Street Journal for opening up Greece to US companies:

Pfizer—led by Greek-American Albert Bourla —announced plans for new digital labs in Thessaloniki, Mr. Bourla's hometown. Last year, Microsoft made an even bigger show of confidence in Greece by announcing plans for three new data centers to serve the broader region. Microsoft won't put a value on the investment, but local officials have said it is more than $100 million.

'We took a bet, but we think it will be a very good bet,' said Theodosis Michalopoulos, Microsoft's general manager for Greece, Cyprus and Malta.

Bureaucracy and outdated regulations have slowed work developing the data centers, which will take years, he said. 'It hasn't been easy, but we're getting through.'

Since Microsoft's announcement, Cisco Systems Inc., Amazon Web Services and others have announced investments in research, training and data centers. The projects remain a tiny part of Greece's economy, but are helping raise the U.S.'s profile in the country.

If you find a Greek island vacation incomplete without Amazon surveillance, you're in luck. According to Vice:

As Athens is being roiled by government surveillance, a different kind of surveillance is taking place in the Aegean with Astypalea not the only petri dish for large corporate interests: Amazon has its eyes on the Greek island of Naxos, which has a population of 22,000. Naxos is billed as a 'smart hub,' for Amazon Web Services, which plans to upgrade much of the island's services. The project is reportedly the product of a star-studded dinner in the summer of 2021 between Jeff Bezos and Mitsotakis, with actor Tom Hanks and fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg also in attendance. …

Drones are a key component of the project, and will reportedly not only be used to drop medicines to remote areas but also be military-grade and could aid coast-guards in 'vessel monitoring.' Amazon plans to upgrade the island's internet as well as facilitate remote medical consultations, introduce 'smart taxi payments, smart parking sensors and electric vehicle chargers.' The company also plans to 'smarten' the waste and water management but has not specified how.

Mitsotakis also signed a zero-cost deal with Palantir that gave the company wide-ranging access to Greek citizens' personal data, but it was later canceled after intense criticism in the country.

The cooperation is even more pronounced in the areas of military and energy. As Türkiye has refused to be a US/NATO hub to move troops and supplies into the Black Sea region, Washington instead turned to Greece. The US is also using Greece in an attempt to pressure Türkiye to fall in line. In reality, those efforts have only pushed Türkiye and Russia closer together while increasing the chances of conflict between Greece and Türkiye.

In September Greece received its first two F-16 military jets from the US as part of a $1.5 billion program to upgrade the Greek fleet. Ankara, which is excluded from the US F-35 program for buying Russian S-400 air defense systems, is worried that in time Greece could have a stronger air force than Türkiye.

The US is also ramping up its control over Greece's Alexandroupolis port in the northeast of the country 18 miles from the Turkish border and using it as an entry point to send supplies to Ukraine. US military officials have proposed deepening and expanding the port in order to accommodate US Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.

In November Greece canceled the long-planned privatization for the Alexandroupolis port with Mitsotakis declaring it too precious of a resource to relinquish. Gifting it to the American military is not apparently relinquishing it. There are also plans in the works to create a floating gas storage and regasification unit at the facility – no doubt serviced by American LNG supplies – and a pipeline from Alexandroupolis north to Bulgaria.

The US decision to make a fortress out of Alexandroupolis came after Türkiye's decision to close the Turkish straits to all warships after the war in Ukraine began, including its NATO partners who wanted to send weapons to Ukraine via the straits.The move was well within Ankara's rights under the 1936 Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits, and Türkiye's adherence to the agreement has been credited in not making the Ukraine conflict even worse.

Turkish drones recently recorded Greece deploying US-donated armored vehicles on the islands of Lesbos and Samos. Such moves are likely in violation of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne and the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty.

The US is also proposing to the Greek armed forces to replace all Russian-made military equipment including air defense systems with new military equipment produced by the US. This is part of the plan of transferring the Russian-made S-300 to Ukraine; Greece would then replace it with US-made Patriot systems.

Despite its financial struggles, Greece spent 3.8 percent of GDP defense in 2021, which was tops in NATO. As a reward for his good work, Mitsotakis was invited to address the US Congress last year, the first Greek prime minister to do so, and received multiple standing ovations.

Understandably, Türkiye views all the US moves in Greece as directed not only at Moscow but also Ankara, and it's becoming increasingly difficult to envision an off-ramp unless the US accepts it cannot dictate Turkish policy. As War on the Rocks explains:

Aaron Stein recently posed that 'there is no broad rapprochement in the making for Turkish-Western relations.' With Ankara poised to expand its cooperation with Russia, and perhaps widen its footprint in northern Syria, there is, he argues, 'little — if anything — that can be done to manage Türkiye and its foreign policy aspirations.' If this is indeed the case, America's position between Türkiye and Greece appears especially grim. In spite of the past, Erdogan's positioning appears to negate Washington's place as a mediator between the two neighbors. While it is possible that Brussels may be more successful in closing the divide, the possibility exists that even European mediation may have only limited success. Although some have argued that Erdogan's posturing may be an election ploy, there appears to be little room for compromise between Greece's sovereign rights and Ankara's strategic designs. Moreover, as one Turkish pundit recently mused, the wind now may be at Türkiye's back. With war raging in Ukraine, the West may be compelled to stomach a Turkish attack, for the sake of NATO unity, as it had during Türkiye's 1974 invasion of Cyprus. These fundamental conditions may very well push Ankara towards war with Athens within the foreseeable future.

The increasingly confrontational rhetoric between Ankara and Athens over territorial waters, immigrants, and the status of Aegean islands, comes at a time when both Erdogan and Mitsotakis have tough elections coming up this year. Turning up the heat isn't uncommon before elections in both Greece and Türkiye, but outside powers, rather than provide a calming force, are now fanning the flames, which is especially problematic given the two countries' recent histories.

They came close to military conflict in 1987, 1996 and in 2020, the last of which was over an accident when a Greek and a Turkish warship were involved in a minor collision during a standoff in the eastern Mediterranean. NATO stepped in in 1987 and in 1996 to help both sides cool off, and in 2020, Germany, which had the rotating presidency of the EU, took on the role of mediator.

This time there might be no trustworthy mediator to be found.