Greece said it will bolster its military with new weapons, troops, and the development of its defence industry as a tense standoff with neighbouring Turkey has sparked concerns of open conflict between the two NATO allies.
Ankara is currently facing off against Greece and Cyprus over oil-and-gas exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean. Greece and Turkey have deployed naval and air forces to assert their competing claims in the region.
“The Turkish leadership is unleashing, on a near-daily basis, threats of war and makes provocative statements against Greece,” Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said on Monday.
“We respond with political, diplomatic and operational readiness, determined to do whatever is necessary to protect our sovereign rights.”
Petsas said Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis would be announcing details of plans to upgrade the country’s military during his annual state of the economy speech on Saturday.
“We are in contact with friendly countries in order to reinforce the equipment of our armed forces,” Petsas said. Last week, Greece raised 2.5 billion euros ($2.96bn) in a bond auction as the country seeks to increase military spending and raise funds for businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Greek media has reported the purchases may include French-made Rafale fighter jets and at least one French frigate. Petsas said Mitsotakis would be meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday on the sidelines of a meeting in Corsica of European Union Mediterranean countries.
Last Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Greece to enter talks about disputed eastern Mediterranean territorial claims or face the consequences.
“They’re either going to understand the language of politics and diplomacy, or in the field with painful experiences,” he said.
On Monday, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said Turkey was the only regional country “that threatens its neighbours with war”.
Speaking after a meeting with visiting Maltese Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo, Dendias said Greece was “always ready to have dialogue with Turkey, but a dialogue based on international law, and on the only pending issue – the delimitation of the continental shelf”.
However, he said, “dialogue under threatening conditions is inconceivable”.
Greece and Turkey have come to the brink of war three times since the mid-1970s, including once over exploration rights in the Aegean Sea.
The current dispute escalated when Turkey sent seismic research vessel Oruc Reis, accompanied by warships, to prospect for oil-and-gas reserves in an area between Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete that Athens claims as its own continental shelf.
Greece sent its own warships to the area and put its armed forces on alert.
European Union leaders say they will decide on an approach to Turkey when they meet on September 24-25, which could include sanctions against Ankara.
Cyprus is divided between the Greek Cypriot-run south – an EU member state – and the Turkish Cypriot north.
Turkey has stationed tens of thousands of troops in the north of the island since its 1974 invasion, which followed a coup engineered by military rulers in Greece.