BY VASILIS CHRONOPOULOS, Sofrep
In the last few months, Turkey has been slowly but steadily raising the temperature in the Aegean. First was the collusion of a Turkish coast guard ship with a Greek navy ship on January 17th, near the Imia islets. Then, a month later, on February 16th, we had the ramming of a Greek coast guard ship by a Turkish coast guard ship again near the Imia islets.
Those incidents, combined with the inflammatory rhetoric on both sides and the energy game in the waters of Cyprus, make the Aegean a white hot sea. While the sitting government in Greece has proved itself incapable of dealing with a crisis, much less the possibility of an outright conflict, the same can’t be said about the Turkish President.
His most dangerous characteristic is that he can and he will accept the political fallout of a conflict. The ongoing operation at Afrin is a testament to that. This latest incident is the most serious one: Two Greek Army soldiers, Lieutenant Aggelos Mitretodis and Sergeant Dimitros Kouklatzis, were arrested by the Turks in March and are now held in Turkey.
The story we know so far is that during a patrol in the border area of Kastanies Evrou during snowfall, the pair was lost and ended up on the Turkish side, where they were arrested. They are held in a maximum security prison and the charges they are going to face are still hazy. The position of the two Army men is definitely dire. Not only they are going to be used as pawns in a diplomatic game, they have to face a justice system that is anything but quick; not to mention that it is a system largely controlled by the President of Turkey. Remember the charges? There have been people waiting in prison for one or two years before they even learned the charges against them.
On the military side of things, there is the speculation that those two were not lost at all, but snached so they could be used as bargaining chips. After the failed coup against Erdogan, quite a few Turks that feared repcucations fled to Greece. One very known case is that of the eight Turkish Army soldiers that arrived here via helicopter. Those eight people are of great importance of President Erdogan and they were a major discussion point during his last visit in Athens. With the EU and humanitarian groups pressing against extradition, the Greek government was already trapped between a rock and a hard place. Now, its position is even more difficult.
Greece and Turkey have always had ambiguous relations – with NATO co-membership on one hand, and territorial challenges on the other. Even so, this is a unique occasion. This is the first time after the Imia crisis that there is a substantial possibility for things to exacerbate and fast.