Erdogan demands the demilitarization of the Greek islands and threatens a new operation in Syria

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, taking advantage of the fact that international attention is focused on the war in Ukraine, multiplies provocative statements against Greece – one of his favorite targets – and threatens to launch a new operation in Syria, in the hope of increasing his waning popularity among the economically difficult Turkish people.

Last week, President Erdogan announced he was cutting off all contact with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis over a speech the Greek leader gave to the US Congress urging him to continue blocking arms sales. sophisticated to Turkey.

Erdogan was also angry because the Greek Prime Minister, during his visit to the United States, had reached an agreement for the supply of F-35 fighter jets to Greece. It is recalled that during a high-level meeting in Istanbul on March 13, Erdogan and Mitsotakis agreed to work for better communication between them, to avoid provocative rhetoric, to reduce tensions between the two countries and to working for stability in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Since Mitsotakis’ US visit, there has been an unprecedented increase in violations of Greek airspace by Turkish military aircraft, a Turkish exploration vessel has been sent to the Aegean Sea and Ankara has increased refugee flows. to Greece.

This week, Turkey reiterated its demands for Greece to demilitarize its eastern Aegean islands, saying it would challenge their sovereignty otherwise. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu even went so far as to present a map of 14 islands whose sovereignty could be challenged by Turkey.

In an interview with Reuters, Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis said the Greek government cannot accept the absurd allegations regarding the sovereignty of the Greek islands and added:

“Greece will not tolerate aggressive behavior, revisionist rhetoric and actions that constitute violations of Greek sovereign rights and Greek sovereignty. I think it is up to Turkey to change its behavior. We have never been the ones to push the limits in terms of aggression, but we are very confident that we have the ability to defend ourselves when needed. And we are also very confident that we have allies who support us: the European Union and the United States.

On Wednesday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called on Turkey to show restraint towards Greece. Its spokesman said: “Invading Greek airspace and flying over Greek islands is not acceptable, it seems counterproductive and against the spirit of the NATO Alliance.”

Turkey on Friday summoned Greece’s ambassador to Ankara as part of a protest near the Turkish embassy in Athens, organized by Kurds living in Greece, who Turkey says are members of the banned PKK .
The Turkish Foreign Ministry claims that Athens turns a blind eye to terrorist groups, harbors terrorists and allows them to spread propaganda against Turkey, as well as engage in fundraising and recruitment activities. Moreover, he accused Greece of being “a safe haven” for those associated with terrorism.

It is noted that Ankara uses the same argument of harboring terrorist organizations as the reason why it opposes Finland and Sweden joining NATO, thus spoiling the image of unity cultivated by the West since the start of the war in Ukraine.

It is widely believed that Erdogan is blocking NATO enlargement to these two Nordic countries in order to obtain concessions from the West.

Trying to exploit the fact that Russia is fully occupied with its war in Ukraine, President Erdogan apparently thinks the time has come to implement his old plan of establishing a 30 kilometer safe zone along Turkey’s southern border with Syria.

Thus, he said he would launch an operation in Syria because Russia and the United States failed to enforce an agreement to remove YPG (Kurdish People’s Protection Units) militants from the Turkish border. Erdogan also said the Turkish military would launch a mopping-up operation in the Syrian towns of Manjib and Tal Rifaat, which are under YPG control.

Last Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Turkey against a military offensive in Syria, saying it would put the region at risk. Moreover, he asked Erdogan to respect the ceasefire lines agreed in 2019.
Blinken said a new Turkish offensive “is something we would oppose, as it would undermine regional stability and provide opportunities for malicious actors to exploit instability.”

The United States is unlikely to be willing to stop supporting the YPG’s Kurdish military forces in Syria, as it sees them as a vital line of defense against a possible resurgence of the Islamic State and as an obstacle to the expansion of Iranian influence in Syria.

Russia has also reacted to Erdogan’s plans to launch an operation in Syria. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement: “We hope that Ankara will refrain from actions that could lead to a dangerous deterioration of the already difficult situation in Syria. Such a decision, in the absence of the agreement of the legitimate government of the Syrian Arab Republic, would constitute a direct violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria and would cause a further escalation of tensions in Syria.

However, it seems that Erdogan is convinced that a confluence of both international and domestic circumstances favors his planned operation in Syria. The Russians are unlikely to react forcefully as they are preoccupied with the war in Ukraine, while the US needs Erdogan to stop blocking Finland and Sweden’s bid to join the EU. NATO.

Domestically, it will be a great way to distract Turkish public opinion from the catastrophic state of the Turkish economy, with inflation exceeding 75%, while Erdogan’s plans to move more of one million Syrian refugees from Turkey to the “liberated zone” he plans to create, will be very popular among the Turkish population, who see Syrian refugees as a very big problem.

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