Greece says it will press ahead with plans to seal off its land frontiers with neighbor Turkey, tripling the size of a soaring fence already erected in the region. The effort comes as Greece faced a surge in refugee flows in 2022, and as threats of war sound from Turkey, which have aggravated already troubled relations between the two NATO allies.
It’s rhetoric like this that has Greece concerned.
Speaking during the weekend Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Greece of constantly creating border crises with Turkey. What’s more, Erdogan also warned, that Turkey, as he put it “can and will plough into Greece one night and take it over.”
On the other side of the divide and at a separate event, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was quick to respond.
“Greece does not need anyone telling it how to exercise its own sovereign rights. It will continue to bolster its defenses as it sees fit,” he said.
Among the most ambitious plans include a soaring steel seal fence stretching some 160 kilometers…sealing Greece’s land frontiers with Turkey. A quarter of that project is already in place, but over the weekend Mistotakis went to the border region of Alexandroupolis to oversee a 56-kilometer extension the Greek government says will cost over 100 million dollars.
The first leg of that fence was built to stem the rising tide of illegal migration. And while the fence has helped block some 250,000 illegal migrants from entering Greece from Turkey in 2022 alone, according to police date, authorities here fear more will try to make the crossing as elections near in Turkey.
U.N. data for 2022 show illegal entries to Greece tripled in 2022 compared to the year prior.
Such a forecast, officials say adds to growing tension between NATO allies Greece and Turkey as both sides remain locked in a heated arms race, mainly over U.S. weapons systems.
This week President Biden is set to ask Congress to approve a $20 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey. And while the potential sale will not hamper Greece’s purchase of U.S. F-35 fighters, Mitsotakis is advising Capitol Hill to show great scrutiny.
“How the U.S. Congress will handle an arms sale to Turkey is its own affair,” Mitsotakis told reporters. “But it should not disregard Turkey’s provocative behavior, referring to Turkey’s recurring threats of war and airspace violations — both serious breaches of NATO alliance rules.”
Relations between Ankara and Washington have been frustrated by Turkey’s refusal to back Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO. But in recent months, those relations have thawed somewhat as Erdogan helped broker an arrangement permitting Ukrainian grain shipments from the Black Sea.
Several U.S. lawmakers, including Robert Menendez who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee remain skeptical. They vow to block the purported F-16 sale this week unless Erdogan takes several steps to show he can uphold Turkey’s NATO priorities.
Anything less, officials in Athens say, will only aggravate tensions with Turkey and amplify Greece’s needs to further bolster its defenses.