Greece to purchase new planes, frigates amid Turkey tensions
ATHENS, GREECE--Greece’s prime minister outlined plans Saturday to upgrade the country’s defence capabilities, including purchasing new fighter planes, frigates, helicopters and weapons systems amid heightened tensions with Turkey over rights to resources in the eastern Mediterranean.
In an annual state of the economy speech, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Greece would obtain 18 new French-made Rafale fighter planes, four navy helicopters and four new frigates, and was refurbishing another four frigates.
The army will obtain new anti-tank weapons, new torpedoes and new guided missiles, as well as hire 15,000 more people over the next five years, he said.
Nominally NATO allies, Greece and Turkey have deployed naval and air force units to assert the countries’ competing claims over energy rights in the eastern Mediterranean. Turkish survey vessels and drill ships continue to prospect for gas in waters where Greece and the European island nation of Cyprus claim exclusive economic rights.
The increasing tension at sea has led to concerns that the situation could spiral into armed conflict.
“We are a peaceful country, ready to cooperate with all… including with Turkey,” Mitsotakis said, speaking from the northern city of Thessaloniki. If Turkey disagrees on the delineation of maritime boundaries in the eastern Aegean, he said, then a solution could be found at the International Court.
Greece and Turkey have conducted rival naval exercises amid their standoff. On Friday, Turkey announced live-fire exercises starting Saturday and running through Monday between its southern coast and northern Cyprus.
“Ankara is now adding to the provocations in the Aegean, the undermining of peace in the entire Mediterreanean,” Mitsotakis said, noting that Greece’s armed forces had lacked funding in recent years during a recession. “The time (has come) to reinforce the armed forces as a legacy to the security of the country.”
Athens has been pushing for the European Union to impose sanctions on Turkey unless Ankara withdraws its research vessel, the Oruc Reis, from the area of the eastern Mediterranean that Greece claims as its continental shelf.
During a visit to Cyprus, Saturday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on Turkey to cease tension-raising activities in the eastern Mediterranean .
“We remain deeply concerned by Turkey’s ongoing operations surveying for natural resources in areas over which Greece and Cyprus assert jurisdiction over the eastern Mediterranean,” Pompeo told reporters in Nicosia after a meeting with Republic of Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides.
“Countries in the region need to resolve disagreements, including on security and energy resource and maritime issues diplomatically and peacefully,” he added.
Pompeo said his trip to Cyprus would complement phone calls by President Donald Trump with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
Anastasiades welcomed the US’ “firm stance on condemning Turkey’s illegal drillings within (Cyprus’) Exclusive Economic Zone”.
Pompeo’s trip comes shortly after the United States lifted a decades-old arms embargo on Cyprus, outraging Turkey.