Greece and Turkey are rather quietly seeking a solution to a problem that nearly led to war in the 1990s: the search for and development of off-shore oil, gas, and mineral deposits. Add fishing and the broader frame is complete. Greece and Turkey have been engaged in an extended diplomatic wrangle over exclusive economic zones (EEZs) in the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. Why the quiet approach? Political factions in both countries have an investment in Greco-Turk hate and antagonism. Though ethnocentrism has a Greek word at its root, for rabid Turk nationalists and fire-brand Turkish Islamists, attacking Greece and maligning Greek motives draws an instant media reaction. For rabid Greek nationalists attacking Turkey and maligning Turk motives produce the same domestic reaction. However, at the moment, Greece, wracked by financial turmoil, confronts rising threats from Communist and fascist radicals. In the case of the Peoples Association-Golden Dawn party, that should be Fascist with a capital F, as in Nazi. But whether the radical is a Greek Communist or Greek Nazi, the political tactics and thug intimidation routines are the same and both hate the Turks. Which leads back to the EEZ confrontation. In the last round of Greek parliamentary elections, all major parties assured the Greek electorate that they would hang tough on Greek maritime border claims and definitely protect Greece’s right to develop off-shore resources.
In fact, on February 2, Golden Dawn held a protest march to mark the anniversary of the 1996 Greek-Turk confrontation over the Imia islets in the eastern Aegean. The two islets (which Turkey calls the Kardak islets) lie between the Turkish coast (Bodrum peninsula) and the Greek Aegean island of Kaymnos. The islets may or may not mark a natural gas field but they do lie in a zone of disputed sovereignty. In 1996, after a series of flag planting incidents, Greek and Turkish military forces went on alert. Greek and Turk commandoes landed on the islands. A Greek helicopter crashed (it may have been hit by Turkish ground fire), three of its crew were killed, and the two NATO allies were on the verge of war. U.S. diplomatic intervention stopped the incident from escalating but tensions remained. In 2003, Greek and Turkish media sources both claimed that in October 1996, a Greek Mirage shot down a Turkish F-16 two-seater and one of the pilots was killed. However, both national commands kept it quiet because neither government wanted war. In 2012, Turkey’s defense minister, following the loss of a Turkish Air Force RF-4E to Syrian ground fire, confirmed the 1996 incident as a shoot-down. The U.S. State Department supports Greece’s claim to the islets. Hotheads on both sides don’t care what America thinks or what the European Union thinks.
The bad history and domestic political considerations explain the need for quiet discussions. Neither government really wants a Greco-Turk war. Both governments would like to develop off-shore energy resources, especially Greece, whose economy is in shambles. The Greek government recently announced that it intends to reach final maritime EEZ demarcation agreements with all of Greece's neighbors. The "all neighbors" is noteworthy. Despite the tough election talk, Greece is in no position to go to war with Turkey over their mutual EEZ dispute. Turkey has indicated it wants an EEZ settlement but it must be negotiated. Turkey appears to be seeking co-development projects with Greece in the disputed areas. This could include developing areas off northern Cyprus. Greece needs investment capital to develop the off-shore gas fields. Turkey is well-positioned to provide the money. Greek workers need jobs. Both countries need the natural gas. (Austin Bay)
February 18, 2013: Macedonian media are claiming that Greece considered invading Macedonia in 1992, and then again in 2001. The evidence is thin but the stories are yet another indicator that the Balkan peace is a fragile thing. The 1992 claims are based on the uncertainty arising from Yugoslavia’s wars of devolution. Greece certainly wasn’t interested in confronting a new Balkan nation with the name Macedonia and the country continues to insist on calling Macedonia the FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). Greece does not want Macedonia to assert a right to control the Greek province of Macedonia (where Thessalonica is located). The Macedonian media reports contend that in October 1992, the Greek military conducted a large exercise (Exercise Alexandros) along the Greece-Macedonia border. Alexandros, of course, refers to Alexander the Great of Macedon. Allegedly, this operation was either a training exercise in preparation for an attack or the military maneuvers masked the build up for an assault. Well, maybe. However, over the years, Greece has run many Alexandros exercises. In 1993 Exercise Alexandros was a Greece-U.S. amphibious exercise. Alexandros 96 and Alexandros 97 were map exercises. Alexandros 2000 and 2002 were also map exercises. Whatever the real facts are, Greece did not invade in 1992. The conspiracy fans believe the Greek government put the plan on hold but, according to the stories, reconsidered the invasion again in 1999 (Kosovo War). Again, well, maybe. A 1999 invasion would have been interesting, since NATO was at war with Serbia. In fact, NATO had troops in Macedonia. Britain deployed troops in Macedonia in early 1999. In May 1999 British reinforcements entered Macedonia through Greece. Admittedly the Brit reinforcements had to navigate crowds of protesting Greeks who openly supported Serbia. Canadian troops also deployed in Macedonia. The Macedonian media reports also contend that in 2001, the Greek government discussed the possibility of carving up Macedonia with the Serb government of Slobodan Milosevic. What were Greece’s objectives in these invasions? The reports claim the Greek military would have occupied the cities of Bitola, Strumica, and Prilep. What to make of the Macedonian media frenzy? In some Balkan imaginations, it appears that the First and Second Balkan Wars (1912-13) are not over.
February 17, 2013: Right wing candidate Nicos Anastasiades won 45 percent of the vote in Cyprus’ elections. He will run against leftist candidate Stavros Malas in a February 24 run-off. Cyprus is facing a severe economic crisis and somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of its workforce is unemployed.
February 16, 2013: A bomb exploded in an apartment building in the Kosovo city of Mitrovica. Police reported no one was injured. Mitrovica is split into Kosovar Albanian and Kosovar Serb enclaves.
The U.S. warned Albanian political leaders that they must stop making inflammatory ethnic remarks and quit appealing to Albanian ultra-nationalist aspirations or Albania could destabilize the Balkans. Albania is holding parliamentary elections in June. In November 2012, Albania’s prime minister referred to a Greek town as being in Albanian territory. To Greeks this sounded like a revival of Albanian dreams of a Greater Albania.
February 15, 2013: Serbian investigators claimed that they had found evidence that an organized criminal group intended to blow up a government plane which was carrying a senior government leader. The targets could have been Serbia’s prime minister, Ivica Dacic, president Tomislav Nikolic, or Serbian Profressive Party (SNS) leader, Aleksandar Vucic (who is currently directing a government crackdown on organized crime in Serbia).
The Greek government reported that the unemployment rate is at 27 percent – a new record. The Greek economy also shrank six percent in the fourth quarter of 2012. The economic data regarding Greek and Turkish trade provided some good news. Greek exports to Turkey in 2012 were worth $3.5 billion. In 2009, Greece exported $1.1 billion to Turkey. Turkish exports to Greece in 2009 and 2013 were $1.5 billion. Greek business analysts now regard Turkey as a very good market for Greek goods.
NATO completed the deployment of six Patriot missile batteries to southern Turkey. Germany, Holland, and the U.S. have each contributed two batteries. A NATO statement made clear that the deployment is defensive and is intended to improve Turkish air defense along the Turkey-Syria border.
February 14, 2013: Several hundred elderly Greek pensioners demonstrated in Athens to protest austerity budget cuts. The protestors said that the government has cut pension benefits twice since 2010.
Turkish prosecutors in Ankara arrested four retired Turkish Army generals on charges of being involved in a 1997 coup against the government. Another six retired officers were questioned.
February 13, 2013: Greek opposition party leader (of the hard left SYRIZA Party) Alexis Tsipras accused the current government of stoking internal tensions. Tsipras compared the situation in Greece to Italy in the 1970s, when leftists accused Italian security forces of collaborating with radical right wing extremists. The charge itself is more than a bit extreme, since many of the most violent political groups in Greece are left-wing.
February 12, 2013: Turkish opposition parties accused the government of weakening Turkey’s military by forcing the resignation of senior officers and by arresting former high ranking military officials. A senior Navy admiral, Admiral Nusret Guner, resigned in late January, because he was disillusioned by the government’s allegations that senior officers had planned coups or belonged to terrorist organizations. Several dozen Turkish Air Force officers (110 according to one source) have resigned in the last two months. Turkish opposition politicians say this is a sign of bad morale. The government said that the Air Force resignations were expected. January and February are the usual months for officers to submit resignation and retirement requests.
February 11, 2013: The government of Moldova reported that it is investigating charges of Russian money laundering. Several other countries have also opened investigations into Russian money laundering allegations. The government said that it began a criminal investigation in late December 2012, examining a transfer of funds made by a state-controlled bank in 2008. It is now pursuing criminal proceedings against the bank (Banca de Economii) and several unnamed Russians. The Moldovan investigation followed a June 2012 complaint by a British investment firm which alleged that in 2008, a Russian group, the Kluyey Group, moved $53 million in stolen money from a Russian bank to the Moldovan bank. The Moldovan bank then wired the stolen money to accounts in Hong Kong, Austria, Switzerland, Cyprus, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. According to the British investment firm, the Russian organization had embezzled the money from Russian state tax offices. The accountant who exposed the scam was murdered in 2009. Moldova acknowledged that the allegations and investigation have foreign policy implications and affect Moldova-Russian relations.
A car bomb exploded at the Cilvegozu border crossing on the Turkey-Syria border, killing 14 and wounding another 25. Authorities speculated that the attack may have been an attempt to stop aid from reaching Syrian refugees.
February 6, 2013: The presidents of Serbia and Kosovo have met for the first time in talks mediated by the European Union. The EU reported that the presidents agreed to meet publicly to demonstrate their long-term commitment to ease tensions and normalize relations.
February 5, 2013: Serbian ultranationalists demonstrated in Belgrade to protest Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic’s decision to meet with Kosovo’s Atifete Jahjaga on February 6. The Serb demonstrators accused Nikolic of treason.
The Bulgarian government reported that the July 2012 terrorist attack in Burgas, which killed five Israelis and one Bulgarian, was very likely planned and conducted by Lebanon’s Hezbollah terrorist organization. The government said that it’s detailed, six-month long investigation found strong links between Hezbollah and the crime. Two individuals connected to the crime were members of Hezbollah’s militant wing. Investigators also found evidence that Hezbollah had financed the attack. Investigators also found evidence that the explosive device was rigged for remote-controlled detonation and may have been accidentally detonated by the bomber. EUROPOL, which coordinates police operations in EU states, said that it supported Bulgaria’s conclusions.
February 2, 2013: The Turkish government said that a left-wing Turkish group had taken responsibility for a February 1st suicide bomb attack on the U.S. embassy in Ankara. The bomber and a Turkish security guard were killed. Initial media reports speculated that the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) or an Al Qaeda-affiliate had launched the attack but Turkish government sources said that they had evidence that the left-wing Revolutionary Peoples Liberation Army-Front (DHKP-C) may have been involved. The DHKP-C was formed in 1978, and is anti-American. The group quickly self-identified and took credit for the attack. In an internet statement the DHKP-C accused Turkey of being America’s slave and threatened to kill Turkish prime minister Ragip Tayyip Erdogan. The suicide bomber was identified as Alisan Sanli. The internet posting showed Sanli with a black beret and an explosive belt.
Some 5,000 members of the far-right Greek Golden Dawn party demonstrated outside the U.S. Embassy in Athens. Golden Dawn is a Greek neo-fascist party and is sometimes called a neo-Nazi party. The Golden Dawn demonstrators said they were commemorating the 1996 Aegean crisis when Greece and Turkey clashed over the Imia islets. The U.S. intervened. The flags of both nations were removed. Greek ultra-nationalist see the removal of the Greek flag as a defeat and they blame the U.S..
January 30, 2013: Turkish security forces have rescued a Syrian political opposition leader who was kidnapped by four Syrian government operatives. The incident occurred in Hatay province (southern Turkey). Three of the four kidnappers were arrested, the fourth escaped. The Syrian opposition leader was identified as a lawyer who was living in a house in Hatay. The kidnappers broke into the house and seized the lawyer. They then headed for the border. A Turkish police car followed the Syrians. Turkish security forces engaged the Syrian vehicle in a forested area. Based on the Turkish reports, it appears Turkey had the opposition leader under surveillance and was prepared to act to protect him.
January 25, 2013: Greek transportation workers in Athens ended a ten-day long public transport strike. The workers struck over impending pay cuts. Athens had been suffering from gridlocked traffic and 1.1 million Athenians use public transport on a daily basis. The government had issued a civil mobilization order on January 24. The government employed a law passed in 2007 that gives it emergency powers to deal with a peace-time emergency. The civil mobilization order basically told the transport workers they had to return to work or face arrest. The order, however, immediately sparked political criticism and charges of tyrannical action. The government argued that it had no choice. Greece must work in order to solve its economic problems and the labor strike was preventing over a million people from working.