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Analysis: Is strategic consensus between Türkiye and Greece possible?

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In conclusion, the recent agreement between Türkiye and Greece marks the start of a new era. Yet, building a stable foundation for their relationship requires a pragmatic resolution of existing issues.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Greece after six years stands as one of the strongest indicators that relations between the two countries have entered a phase of normalization. In recent years, their relationship has been characterized by fluctuating tensions. However, the agreements made during President Erdoğan’s visit to Athens and the Declaration on Friendly Relations and Good Neighborliness may signify the dawn of a new era.

For Türkiye, Turkish-Greek relations have shifted from being solely a security concern to a potential axis of cooperation. While prioritizing its foreign policy within a broader geopolitical context, Ankara has chosen to address issues with Greece pragmatically. Nevertheless, changes in the regional strategic landscape, Türkiye’s rising influence, emerging regional challenges and its geopolitical presence in the Eastern Mediterranean following the maritime jurisdiction agreement with Libya have once again placed the relationship on a competitive and security-focused footing.

For Athens, Türkiye’s increasing military strength and assertive regional policies pose both constraints and opportunities. Greece has utilized Europe as a counterbalance against Türkiye while attempting to garner support from the United States, simultaneously bolstering its military capabilities.

Additionally, Greece has sought to minimize Ankara’s role in the energy sector by forging alliances with Middle Eastern counterparts, especially in the Mediterranean energy competition. While Athens acknowledges Türkiye’s significance in its foreign policy, there’s ambiguity within the administration regarding whether this centrality should be perceived as a threat or an opportunity for cooperation.

Many speakers at the last Athens Security Forum described Türkiye as the “elephant in the room” concerning NATO, the EU, Ukraine, migration, the Eastern Mediterranean, energy and other regional issues, stressing the need for dialogue with Türkiye and addressing its evolving geopolitical position realistically.

New era

The recent Dec. 7 agreements and declarations raise the crucial question of how to sustain and endure the current period of détente in bilateral relations. The declaration, emphasizing friendly relations and good neighborliness between both nations, incorporates confidence-building measures to prevent military escalation and advocates for peaceful solutions to Aegean and other problems grounded in international law.

Comprising two main parts, the declaration confirms Türkiye and Greece’s shared perspective on their relations, emphasizing their determination to resolve disputes through friendly means and mutual respect. It outlines their commitment to working together in an environment of trust and friendship to enhance regional prosperity.

Additionally, President Erdoğan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis agreed to continue constructive political exchanges, maintain exploratory talks for Aegean issue resolution, and pursue a positive agenda encompassing trade, economy, tourism, transport, and energy within the Joint Action Plan, with an aim to double the trade volume from $5 billion to $10 billion.

While both nations aspire for lasting normalization without escalating existing problems into crises or conflicts, their alignment on geopolitical matters remains uncertain. They might not share the same view but find themselves in the same book. Premier Mitsotakis describes it as two neighboring countries sharing the same geography, while Erdoğan depicts it as two neighboring nations sharing the same sea, geography, climate and even culture in many respects.

Strategic ambiguities

The analogy often used to describe relations between Türkiye and Greece as a forced marriage stems from their adjacency and their roles as vital members of the NATO alliance’s southern flank. Although comparing Türkiye and Greece in terms of power dynamics and strategic orientations isn’t ideal, their relationship’s nature holds the potential to directly influence regional and international balances.

NATO’s consolidation and deterrence following Russia’s intervention in Ukraine have, for the time being, been secured through the establishment of a sustainable framework in Türkiye-Greece relations. Consequently, this compromise could be seen as a success for the NATO community. This allows Greece to mitigate Türkiye as a threat and move away from pursuing an anti-Türkiye alliance within Europe.

However, this shift doesn’t necessarily imply that Greece no longer perceives Türkiye as a threat. Resolving existing disputes, especially on the island of Cyprus, remains a challenge. While Ankara’s two-state solution policy poses an obstacle for Greece, Türkiye’s commitment to this policy might not waver. Additionally, defining maritime jurisdictions in the Eastern Mediterranean continues to pose uncertainties.

The potential normalization between Türkiye and Israel, temporarily halted after Israel’s aggressiveness in Gaza, remains an issue closely monitored by Greece. The future trajectory of Israel-Türkiye relations and their impact on the agreements between Türkiye and Greece might exert pressure. Similarly, the evolving defense and security cooperation between the U.S. and Greece since 2018 leaves Ankara uncertain about the objectives behind the increased U.S. military presence in Greece.

Another pressing issue is establishing a bilateral mechanism to address relationship problems, ensuring third parties don’t overshadow these discussions. This initiative, a solution proposed by Türkiye for some time, might eliminate a crucial tool in Greece’s hands. However, viewing this as a zero-sum process would be a mistake. This mechanism offers a platform for both parties to engage directly in discussions on their concerns.

In conclusion, the agreement and friendship memorandum achieved between Türkiye and Greece on Dec. 7 can be viewed as the commencement of a new era. However, establishing a durable and consistent foundation for relations between the two nations can only occur through a pragmatic resolution of the existing issues.

Source: Daily Sabah / Murat Yeşiltaş

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