This afternoon a group from the European Parliament, headed by the MEP for the Greek New Democracy Party Manolis Kefaloyiannis, will be visiting the two Greek soldiers detained in an Edirne high security prison since March 2 for illegally crossing the border into Turkey.
Kefaloyiannis is the first Greek politician granted permission by Ankara to visit the two soldiers, bearing in mind, of course, the visit by a high cleric sent by the Fener Patriarchate one day after the Orthodox Easter in April. Kefaloyiannis stated in a TV interview that he will carry the message to the Greek soldiers that “the entire Greek nation and the EU are by their side.” He also added that the “illegally jailed” soldiers cannot be considered as hostages because there is no state of war between the two countries.
The issue is still highly sensitive among the Greek public. It also continues to be an issue of hot political debate. The leftist Syriza-led government of Alexis Tsipras still receives harsh criticism for misreading the seriousness of the case because they had initially claimed that it could be solved within “hours.” And as time goes by without any considerable progress, government officials are now seen as having even conflicting views about the future of the case. For example, while Fotis Kouvelis, the recently appointed deputy defense minister, admitted that “the day after the elections in Turkey will not bring the release of the two soldiers,” his colleague Merchant Minister Panayiotis Kourouplis stated that after the Turkish elections “a solution will be found.”
An opinion chasm is also seen among political commentators on whether Ankara will seek to create an incident in the Aegean or at the Greek-Turkish land border to boost the nationalist votes in favor of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its allies.
However, as June 24 is approaching, that view is receiving less support. The supporters of the opposite view, on the other hand, are getting increasingly loud that things will get worse after the elections, if President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stays in power. Their main worry is the new policy that is being developed by Ankara for a strong military doctrine through a local military industry and multiple military deals with powerful countries, to the point of even being able to balance between Russia and the U.S. as we recently saw in the case of the S-400 anti-missile system and F-35 fighter planes.
There is also marked uneasiness among Greek officials over the increased military presence of Turkey in the Aegean and in the Eastern Mediterranean region by means of a series of military drills and exercises. This is interpreted as a way of putting pressure to draw Greece to the negotiating table for issues that Athens believes are non-negotiable. The Efes 2018 Live-Fire Military Drills, in İzmir with the participation of 21 allied countries, last week, followed by a “Sea-lion” research and rescue exercise by the Turkish coast guard, to be followed by “White Storm” drill also in the area of İzmir, is a case in point.
Being interviewed last weekend, former leader of the socialist PASOK and former Defense and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos made an interesting analysis on the state of the Turkish-Greek relations during the last 45 years. He called them “contradictory and asymmetric.” He pointed out that “although we did not have an all-out war or a major incident yet, Greece accepted moratoria which related to its sovereign rights.” He also said that “the demands on the Turkish side which are against international law continue, although the bilateral exploratory talks also continue and certain confidence building measures have been agreed on.”
However, Venizelos thinks that the dominant element in the bilateral relations is tension. “There is tension from the daily drills in the air and sea; there is a sense of threat and the need to maintain military equilibrium through armaments and through the constant mobilization of our human resources.” Venizelos emphasized on the huge population difference between the two countries, added the serious newly emerged refugee/migrant problem, which directly affects Greece, and concluded that it is now high time to have a serious reset of the bilateral balance.
“The time has come for a comprehensive assessment of the post-conflict period that will enable us to make our national strategy timelier and more effective in protecting our national interests as well as peace and stability in the region.”
It is now open-minded politicians that are needed to think productively of peace beyond the present tension of war.