Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis have held talks in Istanbul, seeking a rapprochement against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Both countries have key roles to play in the changing security situation in Europe after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and their increased cooperation would have benefits for the region, the Turkish presidency said in a statement following Sunday’s talks.
“Despite the disagreements between Turkey and Greece, it was agreed at the meeting to keep communication channels open and to improve bilateral relations,” the statement said.
“Pointing out that Turkey and Greece have a special responsibility in the changing European security architecture with Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the meeting focused on the mutual and regional benefits of increasing cooperation between the two countries,” it added.
The meeting between the leaders of the neighbouring NATO members came as Ankara seeks to shore up its credentials as a regional power player by mediating in the conflict.
Last Thursday, the Turkish resort city of Antalya hosted the first talks between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba since the start of Russia’s invasion on February 24. They failed to reach a breakthrough.
Greece and Turkey entered a standoff in 2020 over hydrocarbon resources and naval influence in the waters off their coasts.
Mitsotakis then unveiled Greece’s most ambitious arms purchase programme in decades and signed a defence agreement with France, to Turkey’s consternation.
Senior Turkish officials continue to question Greek sovereignty over parts of the Aegean Sea, but last year Ankara resumed bilateral talks with Athens.
After a five-year hiatus, Greece and Turkey agreed last year to resume exploratory talks to address their own differences in the Mediterranean, but little progress has been made so far.
The countries came close to confrontation in 2020, when Turkey sent a drilling ship to contested Mediterranean waters. The situation eased after Ankara withdrew the vessel, and the neighbours resumed bilateral talks in January 2021.
Before his trip to Turkey, Mitsotakis had said he was heading there in a “productive mood” and with “measured” expectations.
“As partners in NATO, we are called upon … to try to keep our region away from any additional geopolitical crisis,” he told a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
Alongside its European partners, Athens strongly condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, calling it a “revisionist” attack and “flagrant violation of international law”.
Earlier on Sunday, Mitsotakis attended a celebration at the Orthodox St George’s Cathedral, Turkey’s largest, in Istanbul.
The Greek government spokesman this week said Mitsotakis was due to visit the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I on Sunday.
Bartholomew, who has said he is “a target for Moscow”, called during the mass for an “immediate ceasefire on all fronts” in Ukraine.