Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias’ interview with “Proto Thema” newspaper and journalist Makis Pollatos (02.10.2022)

JOURNALIST: The unprecedented escalation of Turkish provocations marks a qualitative shift from the past. Do you see any planning by Turkish President Erdogan that could lead to an incident in the Aegean or Cyprus?

N. DENDIAS: We have indeed witnessed an unprecedented escalation of Turkish provocations recently. In terms of rhetoric, with a crescendo of historically inaccurate statements, false claims, legally unfounded allegations, and even personal insults.
A recent example is the statement by the National Security Council of Turkey, which completely inverts reality. On the ground, there is a sharp increase in the number of overflights and violations of Greek airspace. I would not, however, like to speculate or hypothesize whether these moves are part of a larger plan by the Turkish leadership that could lead to uncontrollable situations, which we all hope will not occur. Taken as a whole, they appear to serve a revisionist narrative that Turkey has been projecting with increasing consistency.

We, Greece, have chosen not to follow our neighboring country in this preposterous and dangerous slide of aggressive rhetoric. We maintain our composure and the confidence drawn from our clear positions, which are founded on the force of International Law, and the deterrent capabilities of our Armed Forces. Our answers were given by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis from the floor of the UN General Assembly.

I did so myself- and you will allow me this personal reference – by sending letters to the UN Secretary-General, the members of the Security Council, the Secretary General of NATO, and our partners in the EU. As I did during the very many meetings I had in New York, on the margins of the UN General Assembly. I can only express my satisfaction with how our interlocutors have accepted Greek positions. Of course, at the same time, we are taking all the necessary measures to strengthen our country’s deterrent power. It goes without saying, as I recently stated in Armenia, where I was a few days ago, that we will do whatever it takes to defend our country. And this is not a figure of speech. And allow me to add something else, the balance of power in the Aegean, a result of the Greek people’s sacrifices, allows us to make this assertion with solid confidence. We hope, of course, that we will never reach that point. But we must be prepared for any eventuality.

JOURNALIST: The Turkish government’s decision to cut off all channels of communication with Greece suggests a “no war” situation. How can Ankara change its stance so that calm and understanding can gradually return?

N. DENDIAS: We have repeatedly and in all sincerity stated that we are ready and willing to engage in a constructive and meaningful dialogue with Turkey. A dialogue that of course can be conducted solely on the basis of International Law and the International Law of the Sea. Unfortunately, however, the other side does not appear to be ready, at least not at the moment. In fact, we see that it invests in its denial claiming that our country cannot be Turkey’s equal diplomatic, political, and military interlocutor. This is a novel approach that tramples on a fundamental norm of international relations: that of equality between states. It is an offensive approach that classifies various countries as more or less equal. It is thus up to Turkey to decide whether or not to engage in such a dialogue. However, de-escalation is key. And the party responsible for de-escalation is the one who has caused escalation in the first place, in this case, Turkey.

JOURNALIST: Can you recall a similar crisis in Greek-Turkish relations during a peaceful period like the one that has occurred in the last six months?

N. DENDIAS: Mr. Pollatos, unfortunately, what we are witnessing today in our relations with our neighbor is unprecedented. For the first time in the history of Greek-Turkish relations, the aggravation has been so persistent and long-lasting that it has been going on for almost three years now. Let me clarify something at this point: in previous crises, we have spoken of an escalation of Turkish aggression.

Today, we cannot simply talk about an escalation at the diplomatic and political level, because Turkey has long gone beyond the limits. When Turkish officials accuse our country, an EU Member State, of ‘’crimes against humanity”, then we are dealing with a different kind of provocation. We are witnessing an orchestrated aggression against Greece on the part of Turkey.

JOURNALIST: As a Minister of Foreign Affairs who spoke bluntly and did not mince his words when he told his Turkish counterpart about Turkish provocations in the Aegean, what are your thoughts when you hear Tayyip Erdogan threatening that “we may suddenly come one night”, his associates urging Greeks to “learn to swim” and the Turkish leadership as a whole accusing Athens of crimes against humanity?

N. DENDIAS: Every day we are confronted with a new statement that appears to be a turning point until the next statement comes along and outdoes it in terms of intensity and aggressiveness. We are witnessing a mixture of extreme nationalism, revisionism, and an attempt to invert reality. As regards the question of where that might be aimed, the theory of those statement being made for domestic consumption is, I fear, an oversimplification. At the same time, we are looking for ways so that Turkey breaks free from this self-feeding and self-entrapping policy in order to create the bare minimum of conditions for the resumption of dialogue or at the very least, of some contacts.

JOURNALIST: Is it possible that the restoration of Turkey’s relations with the United Arab Emirates, Israel, and Saudi Arabia alter the situation with regard to the strong alliances that you’ve worked hard and managed to build over the past years?

N. DENDIAS: First of all, let me make a comment: I believe that we should not view the relations and alliances that our country has established and bolstered through a Turkish-centric lens. Greece does not establish relations or form alliances with an eye to what Turkey does or does not do. We are a country that believes in itself, with a strong confidence in our positions and principles, and with an active foreign policy. At the 77th Session of the UN General Assembly last week, I had more than 35 bilateral and multilateral meetings and contacts aimed at promoting our country’s positions and consolidating relations with various countries.

But also opening up to countries with which our relations were limited or even non-existent. Our relations with the countries you mentioned have now acquired a strategic dimension, which was sealed in the case of the UAE, for example, with the signing of the Agreement on Joint Foreign Policy and Defence Cooperation, which, as you are aware, contains a mutual defense assistance clause.

We have developed a special, unique relationship with Israel. We also participate together with both Cyprus and the US (3+1) in trilateral formats that further consolidate our cooperation. As you also know, we have signed a defence cooperation Agreement with Saudi Arabia, and a battery of Patriot anti-aircraft missile systems has been deployed on its territory. Furthermore, our relations with these three countries, as shaped recently, have also a clear economic dimension that continues to expand.

JOURNALIST: How do you respond to Turkish claims that Greece “towed” the US government in blocking the sale of the F-35s to Erdogan and is now -allegedly- lobbying to delay the upgrade of the Turkish F-16s?

N. DENDIAS: As I have previously stated, we are not going to fall into the trap of the rhetoric of populism and nationalism. Our country is not “towing” or dragging anyone, let alone the United States. As we have stated, our alliance with the United States is at an all-time high.

What is happening today in the Eastern Mediterranean, a source of geopolitical instability on NATO’s southeastern flank at a time when war is being waged in Ukraine, is the last thing we need in the Alliance.

Greece-US defence cooperation is driven by the desire of both countries to contribute to the security, stability, and prosperity of our wider region. After all, the decision to export U.S. military equipment to Turkey depends largely on the relationship between these two countries, as well as on the choices Turkey has made regarding the procurement of military equipment from a non-NATO country. Turkey should not blame us for its own choices.

JOURNALIST: Do you believe that the President of India, Narendra Modi’s statement that we no longer live in an era of war, aside from an implicit disapproval of Russian President Vladimir Putin, echoes peoples’ general concern about the intentions of authoritarian governments?

N. DENDIAS: Allow me to add something here. On the margins of the General Assembly, I had the pleasure of meeting again with my Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. It was our third bilateral meeting within a year. This demonstrates that we are forging a strategic relationship with the world’s largest democracy. A country that is expected to become one of the world’s three largest economies in the coming decades. A power that seeks to play a role in international affairs far beyond its immediate surroundings. A country with which we share common views when it comes to our positions regarding respect for International Law and especially the International Law of the Sea.

To answer your question, I believe there is no longer any room for tolerance or compromise with undemocratic leaderships characterized by violence and willfulness. It is imperative to convey to all authoritarian leaders that borders cannot be redrawn by force and that historical revisionism will not be rewarded. In today’s world, there is only one way to resolve disputes, and that is to adhere to the principles of International Law. The ability of civilized states to sit down at the table, discuss and settle their differences rationally and consensually. I reiterate our firm conviction that wars should have no place in the 21st century and that using military force as a means to achieve political ends is unacceptable. This is a message to many recipients.

JOURNALIST: Let’s put Turkey aside for a moment. After your recent contacts in New York, as well as in Yerevan a few days ago, is there anything that concerns you? Is there anything you heard that we should pay special attention to?

N. DENDIAS: Unfortunately, yes. I have discussed with my interlocutors the developments in our wider region and let me highlight three challenges that share a common denominator: the absence of a supreme authority, a Leviathan, as Thomas Hobbes would put it.

First, the developments in Syria.

It is no longer the focus of our attention. But a new approach regarding this country is required. Considering the facts on the ground, we need to think outside the traditional framework of how to deal with this country, which borders and may destabilize countries of particular interest to our country, such as Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and possibly, albeit to a lesser extent, Israel. And of course, we should not forget the other essentially failed state in the same region, Libya, where the risk of conflagration and destabilization is real. And the illegal, null and void Turkish-Libyan “memorandum”, is a constant source of potential problems.

Second, the illegal annexation of Ukrainian territory to the Russian Federation
Aside from the diplomatic response, the West needs to consider how to deal with this new challenge. Is there room for a new set of sanctions?  What will the military impact be? And particularly for our country, there’s the issue of the Greek community, at least those who remain in these areas. These are open questions, which we need to address immediately.

Thirdly, the Caucasus region

The situation is difficult. Russia’s effective withdrawal from the region has created a new hot spot of tension between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Tensions that can quickly escalate into an existential threat to Armenia. These issues should be addressed in a coherent manner. At the same time, it is critical to send a clear message that deviations from International Law will have immediate consequences. I intend to raise these issues in my contacts with European as well as American interlocutors.

JOURNALIST: Is it necessary for the government to take initiatives to strengthen the domestic front and prevent political life from becoming toxic, in the aftermath of the wiretapping case?

N. DENDIAS: I can only respond to what falls within the competence of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I hope that a toxic climate like the one you describe does not affect the necessary formation of conditions of national unity in foreign and defence policy. The state of our relations with the neighboring country is well known and has been summarized in my previous answers to your questions. We cannot afford to be divided on these issues, in the face of a country that directly threatens and may, as I have warned in Parliament, further escalate its provocations. I, therefore, hope that in our politics we will exercise the essential restraint so that the political confrontation does not have an impact on the country’s foreign and defense policy. However, I must admit that, in the face of external threats, although there are exceptions, an overall climate of understanding and unity has been maintained despite differing views on individual issues, as is normal.