by Kakaouskia for the Saker Blog
Greetings to the Saker community and readers.
Summers tend to be warm in East Mediterranean and not just due to weather. This one is no exception with Greece and Turkey apparently determined to make a stand for what each perceives to be its waters and Exclusive Economic Zone.
Before I delve into the existing situation, I feel that some background information is required: about every 12-15 years or so tensions flare up between Greece and Turkey in the Aegean / East Med. Apart from the historical grievances certain parts of the population feel are important to correct, the main reason is the natural resources apparently present.
There was the war of 1974, between Cyprus and Turkey were Greek and Turkish army units actively fought each other.
Then there was the crisis of 1987 were Turkey declared that their research vessel Hora was to conduct research for hydrocarbons in the Aegean. The Greek government of the time deployed the fleet with orders to sink the Hora and in a major political coup made an agreement with Bulgaria (Warsaw pact still existed then) to provide military assistance in the event of a war with Turkey.
After that there was the Imia incident in 1996; again, fleets were deployed, special ops teams from each country took over some rocks and it almost blew into a war. You can see the pattern.
This time the theatre of operations is in the East Med, the area south east of Crete and Kastellorizo. For the first time not only are there confirmed gas and oil deposits, the political and economic landscape allows for the utilisation of said deposits. Thus, the focus of all countries in the region is there.
At first Turkey focused on Cyprus as it was the first country to ascertain claim of an EEZ and license drilling rights to French and Italian companies. Turkey hired a Norwegian crew to conduct hydrocarbon surveys in Cyprus’s EEZ; after Cyprus issued international arrest warrants for illegal activities the Norwegians withdrew, and Turkey changed strategy by deploying its own vessels with Turkish crews and always under naval escort.
Sidebar: Cyprus being a small country with an economy that cannot sustain a serious air force or navy recently announced that it has come into a defence agreement with France. The diplomatic language was deliberately vague; however, rumours have it that France will have a quasi-permanent naval presence in Cyprus. Moreover, according to the Cyprus ministry of Defence Cyprus ordered Exocet Blk3 anti-ship missiles and Mistral manpads from France in a deal worth €240M. The Exocet Blk3 has a range of ~200Km and a land attack capability, a first for Cyprus.
Then this year Turkey reached an agreement with the Libyan “government” that marked the EEZ zones of each country. The biggest problem with this agreement is that it not only encroaches into the Egyptian EEZ, it also completely ignores the presence of Greek islands and runs over them:
(image taken from https://www.internationalworldgroup.it/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/libya-turkey-eez.jpg)
Greece countered by making a similar agreement with Egypt that partially marks the EEZ of each country (the blue line on the unofficial map) and which is pending ratification from the respective parliaments. The area east of the 28E line has been left deliberately out of the negotiations as it requires an agreement between Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and Egypt.
(image taken from https://thepressproject.gr/app/uploads/2020/08/aoz-hellas-egypt.jpg)
The proposed East Med pipeline is expected to pass from that are as well:
(image taken from https://mediadc.brightspotcdn.com/dims4/default/e52cf5e/2147483647/strip/true/crop/1265×875+0+0/resize/1265×875!/quality/90/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fmediadc.brightspotcdn.com%2F62%2Fb1%2Fde0f172244da817f79e083c1ed3c%2Fwell.v24-05.2018-10-08.Psaropoulos_Map.TWS.jpg)
Turkey reacted to the agreement by deploying the survey vessel Oruç Reis with an escort of 4 (out of the 6 active) Burak class light corvettes (former French D’Estienne d’Orves-class avisos) and F-247 TCG Kemalreis, a Meko 200 TN track II frigate. This force is of moderate strength; while Kemalreis is a relatively modern ship, the corvettes are more of a token force.
(image taken from https://www.ptisidiastima.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/orus-reis-and-escort.jpeg)
Oruç Reis escorted by Turkish navy. Note that this formation is for the photo shoot; it is impossible to conduct hydrocarbon surveys like this.
Greece deployed part of its fleet to monitor the situation and cancelled the leave of military personnel. This resulted in a collision incident between F-451 Limnos (S class frigate) and F-247 TCG Kemalreis. Both countries claim their vessel damaged the other and both released images / videos to show that their respective ship remains operational.
Video supposedly showing Kemalreis after the collision with Limnos:
(image taken from https://www.ptisidiastima.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/FRGR138-2.png)
Limnos after the collision with Kemalreis. The lack of any “unofficial” videos of the collision so far is notable and says something about the information controls in place on both sides. In any case the truth, or at least solid indicators as to what really transpired will be revealed once both ships return to port.
The story of Greece has more credibility though as the image is guaranteed to have been taken after the event and in the present of witnesses; the day after the collision Greece and France conducted a joint naval exercise involving the following ships:
F-453 Spetsai (Meko 200 HN frigate)
F-451 Limnos (S class frigate)
F-460 Aigaion (S class frigate)
F-462 Kountouriotis (S class frigate)
FS La Fayette (La Fayette class frigate)
FS Tonnerre (Mistral class amphibious assault helicopter carrier)
Two French Rafale planes also participated in the drills and they used the facilities of 115 Combat Wing, Souda Bay.
Video of the Greek – French flotilla during the drills: https://youtu.be/gdojh9hWDoA
Based on the available open-source information, it is evident that Greece deployed a more substantial naval force to counter the Turkish threat. From a military point of view Turkey has the tactical advantage as the theatre of operations is closer to its shores and it can deploy additional forces faster if need be. Moreover, Greece cannot afford to risk the safety of the myriad of populated islands some of which are located closer to Turkey (one can say swimming distance).
Map roughly depicting the area of operations and distance from Attalya in Turkey and Souda Bay in Greece.
Greece is at a disadvantage as it is forced to react to Turkey’s movements. An EEZ is not equal to the territorial waters of a country; ships, even military ones, have the right of unopposed transit provided they do not engage in military / economic activities. Greece has no legal right to block the movements of the Turkish flotilla; it will have such a right if Oruç Reis starts conducting a survey. Even then, the acceptable process is to ask the ship to stop such activity and if it does not comply then board and arrest the captain. Oruç Reis is still a civilian vessel and one does not fire on unarmed civilian vessels.
Turkey on the other hand aims to demonstrate that Greece, claim or no claim over those waters cannot protect them effectively thus discouraging big oil from signing exploration / drilling contracts with Greece. A similar tactic was used against the French navy outside Libya during EU operation Irini. A French vessel tried to inspect a freighter suspected of carrying arms in violation of the embargo, only to be prevented by a passing (read escort) Turkish navy vessel that responded to the freighter’s captain request for help. In that case a few days after France complained and Turkey ignored them, unknown aircraft attacked the Libyan air base Turkey was using.
Militarily Greece and Turkey are practically equal. Turkey has an advantage in the form of air refuelling aircraft which allow its fighters to operate for longer periods of time in theatre and carry more weapons. Additionally the Turkish frigate force has 8 modernised Oliver Hazard Perry (OHP) class frigates which provide air cover to the fleet utilising Standard SM1-MR missiles. While the missiles themselves are considered obsolete and have been withdrawn from USN service, the Greek navy does not have such capability and relies on the protection of the Greek air force.
Greece on the other hand has the advantage given by the Mirage 2000 and Mirage 2000-5Mk2 aircraft bought from France. Unlike the US which has denied weapon sales to Greece in the past in order “not to shift the balance of power” France has provided Greece with ~100 Scalp EG cruise missiles for use by the M2000-5 aircraft giving the Greek air force sub-strategic strike capabilities as the export version has a range of 560Km. This is one of the reasons Turkey decided to purchase the S400 SAM complexes. Greece also invested heavily on the Exocet anti-ship missile in all its forms (air, ship and surface launched variants). The older M2000 aircraft of Greece can carry 2 such missiles each making them effective ship hunters over the Aegean. The surface launchers are mobile and can be placed on any island creating access denial areas.
Greek Mirage armed with Scalp cruise missile, courtesy of Hellenic Air Force:
Both countries have a similarly sized submarine fleet; Turkey with 12 subs (German Type 209 variants) and Greece with 11 (German Type 209 and Type 214 variants). Greece has a quality advantage here for the time being as 5 out of the 11 subs are equipped with air-independent propulsion systems and 4 of those being of the newer Type 214.
Sidebar: It is safe to assume that both countries have deployed at least part of their submarine force; the location and actions of said force will be very well hidden unlike surface combatants.
Notably Turkey did not deploy any of its OHP frigates in the East Med area; most likely they act as submarine hunters in the Aegean and as a missile shield for important installations / formations. As the operational status of the S400 complexes is not known, Turkey has no other long-range SAM option; the MIM-23 Hawk system is practically obsolete as recent events in Libya showed.
The militaries of both countries are plagued by problems. Turkey is facing financial difficulties; the officer corps suffered a blow from the purges after the failed coup against Erdogan that as word has it has not yet recovered from; the active involvement in Syria and Libya is occupying resources that cannot be used in the Aegean. The chart below compares the Turkish Lira with USD over the past 5 years. The seriousness of the problem is evident:
(chart from https://www.xe.com/currencycharts/?from=USD&to=TRY&view=5Y)
Turkey has poured a considerable sum of money into its defence industry, sometimes to the detriment of other areas of the economy. These investments have yielded products that however remain largely used only by Turkey thus any claims for their effectiveness remain to be proven.
For Greece, the years of being under IMF and EU monetary supervision have had their toll. Effectively Greece allocates €500 million per year for armaments; an amount that is inadequate. Recently negotiations between France and Greece for the purchase of Belhara class frigates have broken down due to cost. Moreover, in recent years the purchase and modernization choices for the Greek armed forces have been bizarre to put it mildly. It is said that major equipment is suffering from availability issues due to lack of spare parts and that even the newest Type 214 subs still operate with incredibly old torpedoes that partially negate the advantages of the platform. Also after a series of corruption scandals involving past ministers of defence that concluded in jail terms, the Greek parliament enacted an anti-corruption law aimed at defence procurement that makes it virtually impossible to sign any such contract, even a simple contract for spare parts from the sole manufacturer on the planet.
For now, the game of cat and mouse in East Med continues. Oruç Reis is practically bait Turkey is using to lure Greece into opening fire first. Greece is keeping its distance monitoring for any movement against an island. Neither country really wants to start a war, or at least to be viewed as being the one which started it. Whatever the case militaries cannot be constantly deployed; attrition, both material and of personnel is a fact of life and at some point, something will give.
Lets be real, there is no way Greece stands a chance militarly against Turkey. This also goes for the delusional French, who have a massive Muslim ” third force ” within its populations. If Erdogan was to sucessfully frame the possible Turkish – Franco war as one that is Muslims vs. the corrupt west. France would explode internally. Same goes for Germany with its massive Turkish population. There were strategic reasons behind Erdogan’s transfer of Muslims into Europe. They will bear fruit eventually and Western Europe wont know what hit it.
No personal attack, in comment & reply stay constructive with facts – Moderator
Militarily greece has pound for pound a more competent military. Turkey is a large country but its strength is mainly due to western governments supporting them. Now I do believe greecs allies dont really support greece as they dont support their own people either. All western governments are actively trying to get their countries overrun. I am surprised france is supportive though. As positive as this is I am not that optimistic.
Edited for abuse of commenter MOD
“who have a massive Muslim ” third force ” within its populations.”
Here we go again! Lumping Muslims as one homogeneous body, being robotic in their behaviour! Many are second and third generation and are fully “westernised” in their outlook and oppose Erdogan.
“Same goes for Germany with its massive Turkish population. There were strategic reasons behind Erdogan’s transfer of Muslims into Europe.”
Turkish immigration to Germany was encouraged soon after the second world war to man the industries after the loss of many Germans due to allied carpet bombing! To say that Erdogan transferred Muslims into Europe is laughable if not a totally dangerous comment!
An excellent and very complete overview of the tangled and very dangerous situation in the E. Mediterranean.
Again Turkey runs roughshod over its neighbours, but instead of a territorial dispute it is a maritime one, underpinned by their “Blue Homeland” doctrine.
It was great Kakaouski, that you mentioned the Turkish lira, which is currently plumbing the depths. How Turkey manages to pay for their mercenary army is a mystery. Perhaps with help of a generous gulf state sponsor…?
I have just just read that Greece seeks EU sanctions against Turkey. They have threatened to veto EU sanctions against Belarus if the bloc does not agree to sanctioning Turkey. France is on Greece’s side. Germany however supports Turkey and wants the Belarus sanctions.
Turkey has been very patient with Greek politicians for decades. Erdogan has many faults but in the matter of Northern Cyprus he has been realistic and brave.
Sadly, Greece is not a nation-state as much as it is a museum and a culture, with a debtor pattern of finance, an insufficient military and a weary, disillusioned society.
Luckily, Erdogan has many enemies or adversaries who are also willing to work with Greece to limit Turkey’s advances in the East Med.
Greece had a golden opportunity to have China as a cooperating and coordinating partner. Instead, they capitulated to the EU delusion and Germany raped them economically. Now their predator neighbor is on the move, looking for a feast of gas and oil at Athen’s expense.
Making unqualified statements is easy, however doesn’t a proper discussion require arguments backed by some evidence?
Accusing Greece of a “debtor pattern of finance” is easy to say, but doesn’t this nicely ignore the fact that most countries in the world are in a similar state? Just check Wikipedia the “List of countries by public debt” (which is already 1-2 years old) and you would find that Japan is actually the worst offender by a great margin (53%). What is more, you can easily see that the whole Med region faces similar problems—Greece, Lebanon, Italy, Portugal, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Spain are all in the top 20. Let me also remind you that as of today, with a 120% public debt-to-gdp, the US should also be in the top-20, if not in the top-10. (On this note, I could make a very persuasive argument that both Japan and the US are window dressing their economies, and that financial reality is much worse).
Speaking of an insufficient military, your statement makes me wonder if you actually had read the article above which clearly states that the two militaries are roughly equal with Greece having greater advantage in the air and the submarine warfare. This, I remind you, despite the fact that Greece has ten times smaller population and a much smaller area. Besides, as I had pointed below, the Greece air-force has some of the best pilots in the world.
As for your statement that China “had” (past tense) “a golden opportunity to have China…” it makes me wonder where you get your news. Just as an update for those who haven’t heard about it, China has bought both the Piraeus and Thessaloniki ports and makes great investments to turn them to the maritime terminus of the famed silk road. So there is no lost opportunity, but a developing relationship.
Finally, your statement “they capitulated to the EU delusion and Germany raped them economically” (which, while I agree with it partially, again failed to be accompanied by any supportive evidence), one has to realize that foreign policy is not a computer game in which one can afford to have a cavalier attitude on the premise that after the “game over” one can simply restore from the previous save. Greece is a tiny country, and tiny countries cannot afford to have an independent foreign policy without endangering the livelihood of millions of people.
I do not blindly ignore the problems that Greece is facing, but making unqualified statements is simply unproductive and often leads to wrong assumptions.
Disprove with facts anything I stated.
I wrote a comment not an article with sources and footnotes and bibliography.
Where are your proofs, such as Greece’s AF pilots rate high?
Did you disprove my statement about debt? You merely assured readers Greece is one of many debtor nations.
I don’t want to spend a lot of time burying you here.
Nothing I wrote is inaccurate. Greece is a tragedy.
Key to their problems is they shackled themselves to Brussels thinking they would be equals among the EU nations. They are not, and now, never will be. They bartered away their own sovereignty and destiny.
We root for the Greeks. We have empathy for them. But they keep their distance from two nations that could help them out of the trap they fell into—Russia and China. So, they will be enslaved until they break away.
I apologize for the delayed response, as I had already provided some facts in my post below.
Concerning your question about the quality of the Greek Air Force pilots:
2020 was the 3rd year in a row that the Greek Air Force pilots have won the title of being the best pilots in NATO.
Likewise, I would also like to point out that since 2016, the Greek Air Force has agreed to patrol the airspace of both Bulgaria and FYROM/MACEDONIA—and this while having hundreds of dogfights with Turkish aircraft violating Greek airspace.
I trust these two facts should give you some hint of the quality of the Greek Air Force.
Greek pilots voted best in NATO:
Greek Air Force patrolling FYROM airspace
Greek Air Force having hundreds of confrontations with Turkish Air Force per yer:
(Actually, the Greek Air Force occasionally publishes videos in YouTube with dogfights between Greek and Turkish fighters)
When was the last time Greece engaed in any kind of meanigful militrary conflict ? 1974 where it got its ass kicked ?
Greece, while in ’revolutionary turmoil’ against the austerity diktat, was very happy to help as a loyal NATO member, gently providing the Souda air base in Crete to destroy Libya. There wasn’t the slightest murmur about this heinous crime among the protestors, the Syriza party, or the Greek government — all of them united by a common anxiety about losing Greece’s First World living standards on the backs of the Third World. Sadly for them, the EU saw right through the charade. If the Greek majority population had risen up against NATO and its never-ending crimes, Greece would very likely have become a military dictatorship again. Instead, Greece got ’rewarded’ by even worse austerity as a result of Syriza’s cretinism: ’EU without austerity — at least for Greece, please’. But, hey, at least the refugee torrents from Africa became Italy’s problem instead.
Operation Harmattan was in March 2011.
Syriza party was (newly) founded in 2012.
Opposition until 2015 where Syriza won most seats in Parliamentary elections.
I don’t know how you can blame NATO’s attack on Libya on Syriza
Syriza was in its formation stages, and there wasn’t even the slightest trace of anti-imperialism present. As usual, First World demagoguery dodges the issue: The ’progressive’ mobilization that was taking place in Greece at the time of NATO’s total gangsterism in Libya had nothing to say about the bombers taking off from Souda Bay, Crete. Syriza’s only concern was keeping Greece within the First World.
Beautiful job one for my archives. Thanks
Albeit Turkey might get its tail feathers singed.
Is this why Russia took a breather from Syria?
Russia is deploying either the S-300 or S-400 to Libya. Putin is establishing a strategic foothold and is committing increasingly capable systems to this conflict as it accelerates.
This is an American site but factual. I want to see Russia stop Turkey so I ignore the propaganda and change the adjectives.
Greece has got exactly zero chance against Turkey Might have made a difference in the favour of Greece with Turkey outside of NATO. Whatever the military HW available to either country, it’s the leadership quality that is decisive here. Erdogan and his Islamist government have a strong vision and a rock-solid mass base with which this vision resonates very well indeed, not least in the Turkish diaspora and other Muslim constituencies in Western Europe. Not only is Greece entirely lacking anything similar. The bulk of its majority population grovels before EU/IMF/NATO and gets treated accordingly.
Very true. Greek society is even paralyzed in its response to the flood of ” migrants ” crossing its borders and trashing the nation. All military age, male, migrants I might add.
« Greece has got exactly zero chance against Turkey »
How is that?
I beg to differ, for the reasons that I will list below:
The Aegean island chain forms a formidable shield, and some islands are heavily fortified, albeit most installations are underground. The Aegean being a highly compressed theater, makes the air force *the* decisive weapon.
The Hellenic Air Force has some of the best pilots in the world, as it is evident in both the Red Flag and the Blue Flag exercises. Example: https://greekcitytimes.com/2018/10/08/greek-pilots-named-best-in-nato-for-2018. Another example: In 2018, Cosmas Halaris was voted as the “Best Warrior” in the Tactical Leadership Programme (TLP) 18-3.
As for the Mirage 2000-5Mk2 vs F-16 Vipers (Greece has both) here is a Greek evaluation posted in Pakistan defense: https://defence.pk/pdf/threads/f-16-block-52-vs-mirage-2000-5-mk2.367886/
The Greek pilots are not only highly trained, but also highly educated and after their retirement some serve as university professors in advanced physics.
As stated in the article, the Hellenic Navy has a stronger submarine fleet. As a reminder, Greece has traditionally been a sea power, and it still remains the biggest maritime navy.
BALANCE OF POWER:
Greece maintains good relationships with all their neighbors, including the EU, the Balkan states, Egypt, Israel, and the US. Turkey has manage to antagonize practically everyone, and has become politically isolated.
Despite an influx of illegal immigrants, Greece is rather stable state. Turkey has a huge problem with the Kurds seeking independence, and an Islamic/Secular dichotomy. (Leaving aside the fact that an unknown number of “Turks” are actually hidden Christians, children of the Greeks living in Anatolia for centuries). Furthermore, after the coup d’etat, Erdogan decapitated his army by imprisoning en masse all his experienced officers. So much so, that the Greek pilots are complaining that the new Turkish pilots are dangerous for being so amateurish.
In short, Turkey is politically isolated and internally divided with a ruined economy and a decapitated army. Greece has faced some astonishing hardships lately, but it still retains a very capable army.
In addition, there are two more factor to consider:
• Turkey has already over-extended herself by supporting wars in four countries (Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen) while her economy is going down the drain.
• The existing borders between Greece and Turkey were drawn after WW1 and were meant to ensure that neither country can really control the double straits (Dardanelles and Bosporus) that join the Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea; thus, even if Turkey would win a war, this would only command the attention of the great powers (notably the US and Russia) who both have vital reasons to ensure that the straits are open.
Your statement that “the bulk of its majority population grovels before EU/IMF/NATO and gets treated accordingly” is highly insulting to the Greek nation, and is backed by no evidence whatsoever. If you had read any Greek newspaper for the past 30 years, you would have known that the Greek population regularly makes protests on this regard (on a semi-annual basis). Let me remind you of the 2015 Greek bailout referendum that 61.3% of the population rejected the IMF bailout, which the government totally ignored. While I cannot exclude the fact that the Greek governments are “sold out,” however the cold harsh reality is that Greece is a tiny player in the world stage, and it has to walk on a tight rope so that it doesn’t get isolated like Turkey.
”Your statement that ’the bulk of its majority population grovels before EU/IMF/NATO and gets treated accordingly’ is highly insulting to the Greek nation, and is backed by no evidence whatsoever.”
I sincerely hope it’s perceived as a very gross insult by what passes for ’the Greek nation’. You just don’t let the criminals in the EU and NATO destroy foreign countries (and your own too) by engaging in their premeditated wars such as in Libya. Now, the silly Greeks can see Erdogan and the Turks careering around there too. Schadenfreude at its very finest.
A constructive comment is enough, without any judgement of others. Moderator
Greeces military not only stacks up well but now would be a good time to give Erdogan a bloody nose.
As for the troll that asked what proof greece has good pilots. Greek pilots have won top fighter pilot in nato 3 years running. Meanwhile the turks have arrested their pilots because of the coup. Why greece is screwed is they always rely on treasonous allies. I have no faith in nato or the eu.
”/…/ now would be a good time to give Erdogan a bloody nose.”
Yes, but that will never be achieved by the ’’magnificent” Greek military. Its über-splendid pilots are forever ready to bomb anywhere NATO wants to and has a fair chance of achieving regime change (Libya). Erdogan, unlike Ghadaffi, has proved himself to be beyond their powers.
“(Leaving aside the fact that an unknown number of “Turks” are actually hidden Christians, children of the Greeks living in Anatolia for centuries)”
True, a _lot_ of turks are of christian/greek orthodox heritage. But even if some of them know it “intellectually”, it doesn’t matter to them that a thousand years ago their ancestors were Greek and/or christian. They feel turk, live turk and think turk. And most of them simply don’t realize where they come from…
I know a lot of them and none of them feels remotely close to today’s Greece or Christianity. None of them “secretly worships” any foreign power/religion waiting in the shadows to emerge :)
Your comment implies something like an “invisible army” of turks ready to go against the state if there is such an occasion one day. It is completely false and you can take it out of the equation, it won’t ever happen no matter what…
There is very likely lots “standard” turks that will rise against war, like in any other country, but none of them will do it for some historical or genetic reasons trust me…
If a war between Turkey and Greece was able to break apart NATO, it might be good for world peace. The best for the world would be to let Greece and Turkey fight each others and, EU, France and Russia should stay away from this very old quarrel. There is Nothing to win in getting involved in this battle.
Such a conflict, between 2 NATO members (Greece and Turkey) took place in Cyprus in the 70s and NATO did not break up then.
The geopolitical situation has changed a lot since then and it could strain NATO if more countries got involved e.g France, Italy etc.