Greece to boost military

ATHENS, GREECE (AP) — Greece will bolster its military with new arms, more personnel and by developing the country’s defence industry, the government said on Monday, as a tense standoff with neighbouring Turkey has led to concerns of open conflict between the two NATO allies.

Ankara is facing off against Greece and Cyprus over oil and gas exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Greece and Turkey have deployed naval and air forces to assert their competing claims.

“The Turkish leadership is unleashing, on a near daily basis, threats of war and makes provocative statements against Greece,” Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said. “We respond with political, diplomatic and operational readiness, determined to do whatever is necessary to protect our sovereign rights.”

Petsas said Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis would be announcing details of plans to upgrade the country’s military during his annual state of the economy speech on Saturday.

Last week, Greece raised EUR2.5 billion in a bond auction as the country seeks to increase military spending and raise funds for businesses affected by the pandemic.

Greek media have reported the purchases may include French-made Rafale fighter jets and at least one French frigate. Petsas said Mitsotakis would be meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron tomorrow on the sidelines of a meeting in Corsica of the European Union’s (EU) Mediterranean countries.

On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan characterised Greece’s armed forces as “dilapidated” and called on Athens to seek a dialogue with Turkey. He also criticised the EU, which has backed EU member Greece in the dispute.

“I advise those who, instead of sitting around the table with us, show defiance with their dilapidated military forces, to carefully inspect our diplomatic efforts and military operations of the past four years,” Erdogan said. “Turkey will continue to follow a determined and active policy in the eastern Mediterranean.”

On Saturday, Erdogan warned Greece to enter talks over conflicting eastern Mediterranean territorial claims or face the consequences.

“They’re either going to understand the language of politics and diplomacy, or in the field with painful experiences,” he said.

On Monday, a senior NATO official met with Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar and senior military officials in Ankara, and discussed the standoff as well as a NATO initiative aimed at avoiding the risk of accidents between the two allies.

Akar’s office said he told Chairman of the NATO Military Committee General Stuart Peach that Turkey backs the NATO initiative, attaches importance to “dialogue and good neighbourly relations” for the resolution of problems but that the country was determined to protect its rights in the eastern Mediterranean.