Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias’ interview with Naftemporiki newspaper and journalist Michalis Psilos (Saturday, 18.06.2022)

Government

JOURNALIST: We are experiencing a period of intense provocative conduct from Ankara, with verbal threats, violations of Greek airspace, overflights of Turkish drones over our islands, and generally with an escalation of a “neo-Ottoman revisionism”. What is happening? Should we be worried about a “hot” summer in the Aegean?

N. DENDIAS: Mr. Psilos, we are witnessing indeed an unprecedented escalation of Turkish provocative conduct, at least in terms of rhetoric. At the same time, as you rightly mentioned, from time to time there is an escalation on the ground, where the “neo-Ottoman revisionism” is projected.

We are responding to this escalation strongly but calmly. We deconstruct the Turkish side’s unfounded and unsubstantiated claims one by one using a series of arguments.

However, we do not fall into the trap of escalating verbal confrontation on issues that are self-evident to the entire international community.

Our territorial sovereignty is not under discussion.

We remain vigilant, and well-prepared. It goes without saying that we are defending our national interests in all appropriate ways, always on the basis of International Law and the Law of the Sea.

We have reinforced our country’s geopolitical standing, through bilateral agreements, as well as through an international information campaign, which is already bearing fruit, as evidenced by the increasing number of our friends and allies who have taken a clear stand regarding Turkey’s provocative conduct.

As the Prime Minister has announced, the issue of Turkish provocative conduct will be raised at the upcoming European Council next week.

JOURNALIST: Minister, many people are concerned because we no longer see any channels of communication with Turkey, especially in resolving the only dispute we have, namely the continental shelf and the exclusive economic zone in the seas surrounding us.

N. DENDIAS: We, on our part, are sincere in stating our desire to maintain open channels of communication with Ankara. We have underlined our readiness to engage in dialogue on the basis of International Law. We are not the ones who have put an end to the process of the High-Level Cooperation Council between Greece and Turkey. Nor to the Exploratory Talks, the Political Dialogue, the Positive Agenda, and the Confidence Building Measures. It is up to Turkey to re-engage in dialogue, under the condition I have just mentioned though. If Turkey, by effectively undermining communication, hopes for concessions regarding Greece’s internationally protected rights, Greece has made it clear what it will do: we will leave no room for questioning our national sovereignty and our sovereign rights.

REPORTER: However, you exchanged handshakes with your Turkish counterpart Mevlut Çavuşoğlu on Thursday, while Minister of Defence, Nikos Panagiotopoulos had a brief tête-à-tête with the neighbouring country’s Defence Minister, Hulusi Akar. Could this mean that something is changing in Greek-Turkish relations following a period of “overheating”?

N. DENDIAS: The handshake with the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu as well as the brief informal conversation we had should come as no surprise.  In any case, I believe that both sides, particularly our respective Foreign and Defence Ministries, should maintain open channels of communication, even in times of tension.

However, I would like to reiterate, on this occasion, that cutting off channels of communication is not of the Greek side’s choosing and that talking to each other does not mean that we are making “concessions” as regards our established positions on national interests. We have repeatedly stressed that we are open to dialogue on the basis of International Law and, in particular, the International Law of the Sea.

JOURNALIST: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears to be attempting to exploit the ongoing war in Ukraine to portray himself as a “peace mediator”. In some circles he may even be succeeding at that. Does this fact encourage his provocative conduct?

N. DENDIAS: Mr. Psilos, since you mentioned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I’d like to emphasize that the great lesson to be learned from it, is that revisionism leads nowhere. On the contrary, it is a source of destabilization and suffering, not just for the countries against which it is directed, but also for the entire international community. It poses a major threat to the very nature of the rules-based international order. And all democracies operating in accordance with the rules of International Law are fully aware of this. We are all aware that defending a region’s peace and stability is neither an “à la carte” endeavour, nor is it applied at will.

The resolution of disputes between countries can be achieved on a one and only basis, that of respect for International Law and its fundamental principles, such as the protection of the territorial integrity of all States. This is the position advocated not only by Greece, but also by the international community at large.

The narrative of a supposedly regional power that mediates for international peace and security in a certain region, while simultaneously acting in a destabilizing manner through its rhetoric and actions towards another country or even within an international organization, simply does not exist.

And, I reiterate that the international community has come to fully see this, because Turkey has irreparably exposed itself at international level through its rhetoric, but primarily through its actions.

JOURNALIST: Minister, are you generally satisfied with our partners’ and allies’ stance towards Turkey’s provocative, aggressive conduct? Because we see that they say they support our country, but in practice it appears as if they are urging us to ‘get along with Turkey’.

N. DENDIAS: Mr. Psilos, first of all let me stress that we are keeping our partners and allies, as well as international organizations, thoroughly informed about Turkey’s blatant aggressive behaviour. Our country has currently internationalized the issue of Turkish provocations, placing Turkey’s conduct in the broader context of revisionism and neo-Ottomanism that characterizes it.

One of the most recent examples of these efforts is the recent publication by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of 16 maps revealing the scope of Turkish claims and aspirations, as they have developed from 1973 to the present day; as well as the letter of the Permanent Representative of Greece to the UN addressed to the Secretary-General of the Organization, with which the unfounded and unsubstantiated nature of Turkish claims regarding the alleged obligation to demilitarize Aegean islands is well-documented. With regard to the stance of our partners and allies, it is true that certain public statements do not satisfy us.

However, our constant contacts, our intensive efforts to internationalize the issue, as well as the cultivation of relations at a personal level with my counterparts from other states, have already begun to yield tangible results in terms of a shift of stance. International public opinion is now aware of who is causing trouble in the region. This has been made possible, on the one hand, thanks to the targeted promotion of Greek positions and, on the other hand, thanks to the overall reliable policy Greece pursues in all international issues.

JOURNALIST: As a member of NATO and the EU, our country rightfully condemns Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which violates International Law. Could we, however, also play a mediating role in the effort to end the war since the consequences for both the Greek economy and Europe are severe?

N. DENDIAS: First of all, let me note that Greece did not condemn the Russian invasion just out of obligation, as a member of the EU and NATO. It did so because this is dictated by the principled foreign policy it serves – a policy that upholds the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all states on the basis of International Law and the United Nations Charter. As regards Russia, let me recall that when Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ government came to power, almost three years ago, our relations with Russia were at a rather moderate level.

We made a great effort to restore a level of mutual understanding with a country with which we share centuries-old historical, religious and cultural ties.

We have nothing against Russian society, let me emphasize that.

Let us not forget that it is a society which gave us world-renown personalities in literature, such as Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky and, more recently, Mayakovsky and Akhmatova and in music, such as Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky and Prokofiev.

We continue to hold huge respect for the Russian cultural tradition.

But, through no fault of our own, the Russian invasion and the war in Ukraine have halted positive momentum in our relations.

We act within a specific political and value framework and in accordance with the alliances to which we willingly belong.

JOURNALIST: The Russian invasion has disrupted our relations with Moscow. Will this have consequences on our national issues, for example the Cyprus issue? Are you concerned about moves towards the “recognition” of the pseudo-state in occupied northern Cyprus?

N. DENDIAS:  Frankly, I hope that the consequences of the Ukrainian crisis will not have spill-over effects on issues and regions that have nothing to do with it, especially in the Eastern Mediterranean region or the Balkans. This is something we must not allow to happen, to become, in a sense, ‘collateral damage’ of the war.

Let me point out, however, that so far there have been no indications that Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, intends to change its position on the Cyprus issue.

On the contrary, the Russian side has publicly stated that its position on the Cyprus issue remains unchanged.

JOURNALISTS: Recently there has been a movement of refugees and migrants to the Turkish coast, mainly in the areas opposite Chios and Samos. Are you concerned that Turkey may once more use them as a tool to exert pressure on Greece?

N. DENDIAS: Turkey attempted to instrumentalize refugees and migrants in Evros in March 2020. That attempt was met with a decisive and coordinated response from the Greek state, its border and police forces, as well as with the reaction of the entire European Union. Because we should not lose sight of the fact that the migration and refugee issue is not a bilateral issue between Turkey and us. It is a European issue, to which there needs to be a European response. Last autumn, Belarus attempted to ‘co-opt’ the example of Turkey at the borders with Poland and the Baltic countries. The EU was already ‘wary’ and reacted immediately and in a coordinated manner.

At the present juncture, with millions of Ukrainian refugees hosted in European countries, I think it would be reckless for someone to try to exploit the issue again.

It is possible that isolated incidents may occur. However, the competent authorities of the Greek state are fully prepared to deal with them and will not be taken by surprise. In addition, the border protection forces, both in Evros and at sea, have been reinforced both in terms of manpower and equipment.

JOURNALIST: Minister, Greece plays a particularly important role in South-Eastern Europe, as evidenced by your recent tour of the Balkans in the run-up to the South East European Cooperation Process Summit. To what extent can our country contribute to the accession of the Western Balkans to the EU?

N. DENDIAS: Greece is a country that carries a special weight in South-Eastern Europe. We are the oldest EU member state in the region. We are the most mature democracy and the most developed economy in the region. We feel a historic duty to assist the Western Balkans to move forward on the path of reforms and economic growth, on the path to the EU.

Because this is the path that the citizens of the region themselves have chosen, because this is the safest path to stability and prosperity and because this is what the interests of the region, the interests of Europe and the interests of Greece require.

For the region to join the European family, to embrace European values, to leave Balkan nationalisms behind, to turn its back on actors who pursue backward-looking policies and try to exert influence by promoting revisionist narratives or fundamentalist agendas.

This is, after all, the reason why we took the lead in shaping the European policy for the Western Balkans, with the adoption of the “Thessaloniki Agenda” during the Greek Presidency in 2003.

That is why we have continued to play a leading role in the European integration of the Western Balkans, even at times when enlargement policy was not, to put it elegantly, the most popular topic of discussion within the EU.

And that is why we are still working actively to achieve this goal, by supporting the immediate opening of accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia.

And I have to say that this consistent stance and role of Greece is recognized by everyone in the region, as I had the opportunity to discover during my recent Balkan tour, but also during the South East European Cooperation Process Summit in Thessaloniki.

It is also recognized by our EU partners, as evidenced by the participation of the President of the European Council and the German Chancellor in the Thessaloniki summit.

JOURNALIST: You have recently visited Albania. Following the election of the new president in the country, will we be able to proceed with the signing of the special agreement on the delimitation of the EEZ with Albania for the referral of our dispute to The Hague?

N. DENDIAS: Mr. Psilos, as you are aware, there is already a political agreement between Greece and Albania to refer the issue of the delimitation of the EEZ between the two countries to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which was reached during my visit to Tirana in October 2020. And in reaching this agreement, on the Albanian side, Prime Minister Rama played a decisive role. The submission of the special agreement, to which you referred, is the legal-technical component of this political agreement, and its drafting has been delegated to the competent services of the two countries, which are in direct communication.

During my last visit to Tirana, about three weeks ago, we discussed with the Albanian side the possibilities and ways to provide impetus to this process.

Our aim is to be able to submit the special agreement to the International Court of Justice as soon as possible, so that we can close a years-old outstanding issue, but also to set a clear example to all the countries in the wider region on how disputes between states should be resolved on the basis of International Law and, in particular, the Law of the Sea.

JOURNALIST: When is the ratification of the Memoranda of Understanding with North Macedonia expected to take place?

N. DENDIAS: During my recent bilateral visit to Skopje I had the opportunity to witness the gradual improvement of our bilateral relations with North Macedonia in all areas; a country which I visited again a few days ago in order to participate in the ‘Prespa Forum Dialogue’.

During my contacts there, I had the opportunity to reiterate that Greece looks forward to the full, consistent and in good faith implementation of the letter and spirit of the Prespa Agreement.

With regard to the three memoranda you mentioned, I would like to recall that the non-ratification of the memoranda so far has not prevented the development of cooperation in the areas that they cover – economic cooperation, policing of the FIR of North Macedonia by the Hellenic Air Force, providing know-how to North Macedonia to better prepare its accession path to the EU.

As far as the timing is concerned, my answer is that these will be submitted for ratification when the national interest and the schedule of the Greek Parliament allow it.

JOURNALIST: And one last question: A few days ago you announced the organization of the ‘Our Ocean Conference’ in consultation with the United States in 2024. What are the benefits for Greece from this initiative? And a similar question: has the war in Ukraine disrupted the plans for the green transition?

N. DENDIAS: Thank you so much for asking these questions.
First of all, with regard to the ‘Our Ocean Conference’: This is an initiative launched in 2014 by the then US Secretary of State and current US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, whom I met a few weeks ago in Washington D.C. This initiative aims to protect the oceans and seas more broadly, notably from environmental disasters. The immediate aim is to look at ways of dealing with the effects of climate change, overfishing and marine pollution. The fact that our country was asked to organize the meeting in two years’ time indicates the importance that the US attaches to Greece in this domain. Let me add that the protection and preservation of the marine environment constitutes a chapter of the UN Convention on the International Law of the Sea, the UNCLOS, the respect for which, as is well-known, is a fundamental principle of our country.

On the second part of the question, I want to be clear.

The Mitsotakis Government’s strategy for a full transition to clean energy continues to constitute a key priority. I have repeatedly stressed that we are a ‘green government’ in this regard. Of course, we have to adapt to the challenges of the current situation; but the target to reduce emissions by 55% by 2030 remains in place. Our ambition is for our country to become a leader in the development of green energy. This will also lead to the application of new technologies and the creation of new jobs in industries other than tourism. And of course, we should not forget that the development of renewable energy sources is perhaps the safest way to Greece’s energy independence in the medium and long term, with the geopolitical consequences that this entails.

JOURNALIST: Thank you so much for your in-depth interview with ‘Naftemporiki”, Minister.

N. DENDIAS: I thank you.