Greece to Buy Warplanes, Battleships to Boost Defenses against Turkey
With tensions between NATO allies Greece and Turkey rising, Greece has announced plans to purchase a grab bag of new warplanes, frigates, helicopters and weapons systems. Greece’s defense shopping spree comes amid a new diplomatic scramble with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visiting Cyprus to ease an energy standoff in the eastern Mediterranean.Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced the defense upgrade, saying it stemmed from the need to offset what he called Turkey’s destabilizing moves in the region.Along with its longstanding air and sea claims in the Aegean, Ankara is now torpedoing peace in the eastern Mediterranean, Mitsotakis said. Turkey is threatening southeast Europe and is undermining security at a crucial crossroads between East and West, he said.Greece and Turkey are locked in an increasingly tense and dangerous standoff in the Aegean Sea and eastern Mediterranean over hydrocarbon drilling rights and delineation of their maritime boundaries.In a speech at a trade fair, Mitsotakis said Greece would obtain 18 new warplanes from France to replace its aging fleet of Mirage 2000 fighters. The shopping list will also include four new navy helicopters and an equal number of frigates. Existing battleships will also be refurbished.Details of the deals were not announced but it is not the first instance this year in which Greece has shown an interest in substantially upgrading its defenses.Greece and the U.S. are already in talks for the procurement of at least 24 fifth-generation F-35 warplanes for $3 billion.Having finalized its intent, the new acquisitions, experts say, would give Athens a significant qualitative edge in its air defense against Turkey, which is facing problems in procuring new aircraft and upgrading its existing fleet.The United States suspended Turkey from the F-35 Fighter program after it moved to acquire advanced Russian S-400 air defense missile systems last year.Mitsotakis’ announcement comes amid a new diplomatic effort in the region by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to convince Greece and Turkey to back off from their monthlong standoff in the eastern Mediterranean.After talks with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and other officials, Pompeo said the United States remains deeply concerned by Turkey’s continuing operations surveying for natural resources in areas over which Greece and Cyprus both assert jurisdiction in the eastern Mediterranean.U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades make statements during a press conference at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, Sept. 12, 2020.Pompeo added that, “Countries in the region need to resolve disagreements – including on security and energy, resource and maritime issues – diplomatically and peacefully. Increased military tensions help no one but adversaries who would like to see division in transatlantic unity.”Pompeo’s visit to Cyprus comes hot on the heels of a similar visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.Greece has refused to engage in negotiations with Turkey until it stops searching for eastern Mediterranean gas reserves.However, Sunday, just hours after Pompeo shuttled to Cyprus for high-level talks, hopes of a breakthrough seemed to emerge.Turkey called its top research vessel back to base, leaving an opening for a potential start to crucial negotiations.