ATHENS: Greece has sought to bolster its Mediterranean presence in recent weeks in response to heightened tension with Turkey, ramping up its meaneuvers but sparking accusations of adventurism at home.
Over the past month, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has revamped a defense agreement with the US and sent a warship to join a French naval battle group.
The latest flurry has exposed the recently elected, US-educated prime minister to accusations of “adventurism” in a particularly volatile Middle East.
“You are embroiling the country in adventures that lie beyond its capacity and change decades-old foreign policy,” leftist former PM Alexis Tsipras told Mitsotakis last month.
Mitsotakis, who became prime minister in July, has shrugged off the criticism as short-sighted.
“We are strengthening the framework of our strategic alliances, not just with the US ... our military cooperation (with France) has never been better,” he told lawmakers in January as parliament prepared to approve the US defense deal.
A few days earlier, a Greek warship had joined the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, whose battle group is on a mission against Daesh in Iraq and Syria.
According to diplomats, France has encouraged Greece to be more “autonomous” and play a more active role in EU defense initiatives.
And after a decade-long debt crisis that saw Greek arms spending drop by over 70 percent, the Mitsotakis government wants to be heard, says Spyridon Litsas, professor of international relations at the University of Macedonia.
“Being idle during these days of high volatility is equally risky and has nothing substantially to offer to Greece’s attempt to achieve a return to international politics after the economic crisis of 2010,” he says.
Greek relations in Turkey — never particularly warm — have taken a turn for the worse in recent months under the added burden of migration and an energy exploration scramble in the eastern Mediterranean.
Right now, “France is the ideal Greek ally,” Panagiotis Tsakonas, a professor of international law at Athens University, told AFP.
“The two countries share views on the situation in the eastern Mediterranean,” he said, citing involvement of French firms in energy exploration off Cyprus, historically Greece’s chief ally.
Turkey has pushed ahead with drilling activity in Cyprus’s designated exclusive economic zone (EEZ) despite EU threats of sanctions.
Greece last month signed an agreement with Cyprus and Israel on EastMed, a huge pipeline project to ship gas to Europe.
The rivalry has extended to Libya.
Turkey signed a maritime and military cooperation memorandum with the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) in November, carving out energy spheres of influence in the Mediterranean at the expense of Greece.
Athens retaliated by expelling the GNA ambassador and by seeking to build ties with Khalifa Haftar, a general based in the east who controls three quarters of Libyan territory.
Constantinos Filis, executive director of the Athens-based Institute of International Relations, agrees that Athens “must demonstrate its presence and secure backing in the face of Turkish claims in the region.”
The PM drew fire last month when, ahead of a visit to the White House, he called Greece “the most reliable and predictable ally of the US in NATO in this region,” according to state agency ANA.