Greece blocks Turkey from NATO air exercises, citing airspace violations

Greece has blocked Turkey from a NATO air exercise scheduled for next month, citing violations into Greek airspace.

Athens revoked Turkey’s planned participation in Greece-hosted NATO air exercise “Tiger Meet” to be held on May 9, saying the country was “neither an ally, nor a friend,” Voice of America reported on Thursday.

On Thursday, Greece filed a demarche to the Turkish ambassador in Athens over “repeated violations of Greek airspace by Turkish fighter jets,” according to the Kathimerini newspaper. “The continuing Turkish provocative and illegal behaviour, which violates Greek sovereignty, is completely condemnable and unacceptable,” the Greek Foreign Ministry said in the demarche.

Responding to Greece’s remarks, The Turkish Foreign Ministry said that Greece’s “allegations” do not reflect the truth. It blamed the Greek Air Force for conducting “provocative flights in close proximity of the Turkish coast,” and “repeatedly violated the Turkish airspace”.

“Armed Turkish jets streamed into Greek airspace, conducting more than 125 unauthorized flights within 24 hours,” VOA said, citing Greek officials.

Turkey and Greece have long been mired in arguments over territory that have almost led to direct military clashes, most recently in 2020, when Greek warships neared a Turkish hydrocarbon survey ship searching for natural gas off a Greek island. While both countries deny the other’s accusations of territorial violations, the two neighbouring NATO members are hold bilateral meetings between senior diplomats, followed by talks at the highest level of government, to help resolve their differences.

Last month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis agreed to improve bilateral ties and to keep the communication channels open, despite the disagreements between Ankara and Athens, during their meeting in Istanbul.

The fear about these Turkish flights, “is that anything can go wrong,” according to retired Greek Air Force Commander Evangelos Georgousis. “The only thing missing in these chases, is the act of pressing the button to unlock missiles against the enemy target. Everything else is as real and warlike as can be, and it’s dangerous,” he told the VOA.

“Nothing in reality had changed vis-a-vis Turkey’s stance toward Greece,” said Andreas Loverdos, a member of the Greek Foreign Affairs Committee.

Greece is also expected to freeze plans for a next round of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) with Turkey at the level of defence ministries, following Turkey’s violations over Greek airspace, Kathimerini reported on Friday, citing government sources.

Diplomatic relations between Greece and Turkey reached the lowest point in decades in 2020 after Turkey sent seismic research vessel Oruç Reis, escorted by warships, into waters claimed by Greece to search for natural gas. Greece responded by deploying its navy and the standoff prompted the EU to temporarily impose sanctions against senior Turkish energy ministry officials.

The two NATO allies are also at odds over ethnically split Mediterranean island of Cyprus and the migrant pushbacks across the Aegean. One of the other outstanding disputes between Ankara and Athens is the Aegean islands off the Turkish coast, that Turkey calls on Greece to demilitarise them in line with the Treaty of Lausanne. However, Greece says circumstances have fundamentally changed since then and the restrictions no longer apply.

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