Greece and Turkey have begun a comprehensive effort to normalize their relations. The road will not be easy and every step will carry the risk of unexpected developments, and even complete collapse.
So far, however, the climate is relatively good. It is hoped that the dangerous chapter that began with Turkey’s migrant push in the region of Evros and the seismic survey vessel and warships in the Aegean in the summer of 2020, which brought the two countries to the brink of conflict, and continued with the direct threats by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other officials “to come suddenly one night,” and peaked with a complete freeze of bilateral relations and the infamous statement “Mitsotakis yok,” after the Greek prime minister’s visit to Washington, has been closed – for now at least.
It is clear that under the pressure of certain realities and the difficulties facing Turkey, Erdogan is looking for new balances with the countries of the region – Israel, Syria, Egypt – and to a certain extent, the change of tack towards Greece is part of a similar framework.
The Turkish president is a realist. And in the case of Greek-Turkish relations, the “reality” he faces has many aspects.
The first is the fact that Greece is an equal member of the European Union and therefore has a say in improving the bloc’s relationship with Ankara and the benefits it will bring to the Turkish economy.
The second is the influence of Hellenism in Washington, which is also reflected in the difficulties faced by Turkey in terms of strengthening its defense capacity. It is becoming clear that threats against Greece and overflights over the Greek islands come at a cost.
The third, which to some extent complements the second, is the steady deepening of the relationship between Athens and Washington which has evolved into a strategic cooperation that serves important US geopolitical interests, as confirmed in the case of the war in the Ukraine.
Finally, Turkey’s generally erratic behavior, culminating in the supply of the Russian S-400s, disturbed the West and resulted in its exclusion from the F-35 program and the delays observed in the purchase and upgrade of its F-16 fighter jets.
Erdogan likes to project a more independent foreign policy, but he does not have the luxury of isolating his country completely from the US and Europe or a prolonged confrontational relationship with almost all countries in the region. In this light, the “Blue Homeland” doctrine may respond to nationalistic reflexes at home, but it does not help Turkey address its economic, defense, or geopolitical needs.
In the environment created by the above realities, substantive negotiations between Greece and Turkey will begin in about a month and a half, at the level of deputy foreign ministers. If Ankara comes to realize that revisionism, in all its manifestations, creates more problems than benefits, there can be progress and a path for the normalization of bilateral relations through some bold moves can be opened.