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Greece announces major arms purchase as Turkey tension rises

  • Published at 08:05 am September 13th, 2020
File photo: Greek and French vessels sail in formation during a joint military exercise in Mediterranean sea on August 13, 2020 REUTERS
File photo: Greek and French vessels sail in formation during a joint military exercise, in Mediterranean sea on August 13, 2020 Reuters

The row escalated last month when Turkey sent an exploration ship and a small navy flotilla to conduct seismic research in waters which Greece considers its own under post war treaties

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Saturday announced a "robust" arms purchase program and an overhaul of the country's military amid rising tension with Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean.

What appears to be Greece's most ambitious military overhaul in nearly two decades was unveiled as it is engaged in a growing stand-off with Turkey over hydrocarbon resources and naval influence in the waters off their coasts.

The bitter row between the Nato allies has roped in other European powers and even sparked fears of more severe conflict.

"The time has come to reinforce the armed forces... these initiatives constitute a robust program that will become a national shield," Mitsotakis said in a keynote address in the northern city of Thessaloniki.

Mitsotakis said Greece would acquire 18 French-made Rafale warplanes, four multi-purpose frigates and four navy helicopters, while also recruiting 15,000 new troops and pouring resources into the national arms industry and cyber-attack defence.

New anti-tank weapons, navy torpedoes and air force missiles will be secured, the PM said.

The initiative, which includes upgrades of another existing four frigates, is also designed to create thousands of jobs, he said.

More details on the cost of the program and origin of the weapons purchases will be announced at a news conference Sunday, a government source told AFP.

The French connection

Mitsotakis is believed to have hammered out the program announced on Saturday after talks with French President Emmanuel Macron during a southern European leader’s summit in Corsica this week.

In contrast to other EU and Nato allies, France has strongly backed Greece in its burgeoning showdown with Turkey, as well as Cyprus.

French Defence Minister Florence Parly welcomed the arms deal, saying it was the first time a European country had bought the Rafale warplanes.

Dassault Aviation, which makes the planes, said it was "delighted" with the order.

In a war of words that has become increasingly hostile, Macron has told his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan not to cross "red lines" and has sent warships and fighter jets to the eastern Mediterranean.

On Saturday, Erdogan told Macron "not to mess" with Turkey.

The Turkish president also urged Greece to "stay away from wrong" actions backed by countries like France in the disputed waters.

The row escalated last month when Turkey sent an exploration ship and a small navy flotilla to conduct seismic research in waters which Greece considers its own under post war treaties.

Greece responded by shadowing the Turkish flotilla with its own warships, and by staging naval exercises with several EU allies and the United Arab Emirates in its own show of force.

The dispute has put Nato -- among others -- in a difficult position, with Mitsotakis saying last month the alliance's "hands-off approach" in not taking sides was "profoundly unfair."

On Saturday, Mitsotakis said that Turkey "threatens" Europe's eastern border and "undermines" regional security.

In an article published in The Times, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Le Monde this week, Mitsotakis reiterated his desire for dialogue with Turkey, provided it stops acting "like a provocateur."

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