Greek General Fragulis Fragos. Photo: Ministry of Defense of Greece
7 January Turkey for the first time violated the air borders of Greece in 2016 year - four Turkish fighters three times invaded the airspace of Hellas over the northern part of the Aegean Sea.
However, the regular invasions of the Turkish Air Force are hardly surprising: according to the University of Thessaly, it was only in 2014 that the Greek Ministry of Defense recorded the 2244 invasions of Turkish aircraft and helicopters into the country's airspace.
In 2015, the Turkish Air Force violated the borders of Greece at least 1300 times, including, at a minimum, 31 flying directly over the territory of the Greek islands.
About why Ankara behaves so provocatively towards its neighbor, how NATO and the EU treat such manifestations of Turkish “good neighborliness” and where Turkey will lead its foreign policy, the RG correspondent spoke with the Greek general Fragulis Fragos.
Every year, thousands of invasions into the air borders of Hellas by armed Turkish fighters are counted, and demonstration passes of the Turkish Navy ships occur in close proximity not only to the Greek islands, but also from the mainland of your country. Why does Turkey behave so provocatively towards Greece?
Fragulis Fragos: The Turks want to change the borders in the Aegean Sea - this is their main goal. The fact is that since the time of Mustafa Kemal Attaturk, there exists the concept of a “national oath” or a “national pact” approved by the Turkish parliament in 1923, which is called “misaki” in Turkish. It provides for the return of part of northern Greece under the rule of Ankara up to Thessaloniki, Cyprus, the redistribution of the maritime borders in the Aegean Sea. In fact, Turkey seeks to restore the Ottoman Empire. This is the basis of the constant instability and provocations in the Aegean Sea.
Formally, the Turkish warships use neutral waters, but they behave aggressively, provoking the Greek Navy. Turkish aircraft openly violate the air borders of our country. All this serves one purpose - to create “gray areas” and make it clear to the international community that Turkey does not recognize the existing maritime borders in the eastern Mediterranean. For the same reason, Turkey refuses to sign the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
In 1996, an open military conflict nearly occurred between Athens and Ankara. Many Greeks are confident that the Turks shot down a Greek helicopter near the Island of Had (the official version is a wreck) when three of your servicemen died. Is this really true?
Fragulis Fragos: No one knows for sure. But as a result of a special investigation of this incident in the Ministry of Defense of Greece, we did not find evidence of this version. However, no one will argue that the root cause of the death of our pilots were the reckless actions of Turkey, which violated the Greek borders, in this case, the Island Having. Moreover, the Turks initially knew that, in accordance with all international treaties, the island belongs to Greece.
Further incidents between Greece and Turkey cannot be ruled out. And here on our side the main role is played by the professionalism of our small Air Force - when I was the head of the General Staff of Greece, we conducted military exercises with the Israelis, who had previously conducted similar exercises with Turkey. So, according to an Israeli analysis, in the event of a Greek-Turkish air conflict, the Greek Air Force will be able to destroy all Turkish combat aircraft during 48 hours.
In one of your recent comments in the Greek media, you stated that in the event of an escalation of the conflict around Turkey, including Ankara’s desire to use the 5 article of the NATO collective defense treaty, Greece should be opposed. Is this possible in the North Atlantic Alliance?
Fragulis Fragos: If NATO asks us to support Turkey in the framework of the 5 article of the Washington Treaty, it is unlikely that Greece will do that. Why do we need it? We need to think about our national interests. Everyone knows that every day the Turks violate our borders in the air and at sea. Literally at the end of December, Ankara declared NOTAM (warning to foreign pilots of closed airspace - “RG”) over the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea “due to military exercises.”
In fact, Turkey has been pursuing an aggressive policy against Greece over the past hundred years. Hundreds of thousands of Greeks were expelled from Constantinople and Asia Minor. Almost 40 percent of Cyprus is under Turkish occupation since 1974, and today they constantly violate our air and sea borders. At the same time, neither in the EU nor in NATO they want to help Greece.
The North Atlantic Alliance, of which both Greece and Turkey are members, flatly refuses to intervene in the Greek-Turkish differences. When we officially complain about the behavior of our neighbors, we are told - look for a solution on your own.
What does it mean? Although NATO seeks to look like a monolithic organization, it is not. After all, some members of the alliance suffer from the actions of others, as is the case with Greece and Turkey, countries with 11 and 70 millions of people, respectively. At any time, NATO members could pressure Ankara, but this does not happen. The European Union, in turn, leads an unfair policy towards both Greece and Cyprus, continuing negotiations on joining the EU with a country that openly questions the existing borders of Greece, and also supports the occupation of the northern part of Cyprus.
What are the true goals of Turkey in the Syrian conflict from the point of view of the Greek military?
Fragulis Fragos: The main thing that Ankara is afraid of is the creation of broad Kurdish autonomy. Therefore, they are trying to flirt with the various groups of Kurds. Today, the Turks have established good relations with the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, and they do not fight against Daesh (the Arabic name of the terrorist organization “IG”, which is banned in the Russian Federation). The truth is that the Turks buy oil not only from DAISH, but also from Barzani.
The latest egregious incident is Turkey's invasion of Iraq. Ankara claims that they help train Kurdish troops to fight Daesh. But the question arises: why send so many heavy military equipment for training, including Tanks? In fact, they want to provide themselves with long-term access to oil extracted in the Iraqi Mosul area. That is their goal. On the other hand, the Turks are striving to create a “gray” and uncontrolled zone on the border of Syria, Iraq and Turkey.
The conflict in Syria is no longer a war between the forces loyal to President Assad and the opposition. Today we can say that everyone is fighting against everyone there: Assad, Hezbol, the Free Syrian Army, DAISH, the Kurds with the Turks, Iran and the international coalitions. Moreover, the existence of Daishe is beneficial to a number of players - from Saudi Arabia and Qatar to Turkey, using the Islamists against Assad and the Kurds.
Last year, Russia faced Ankara’s blatant and aggressive behavior when Turkish fighters shot down a Russian Su-24 bomber. Moscow dramatically changed its policy towards Turkey and imposed economic sanctions against this country. How do you assess the prospects of the Russian-Turkish conflict?
Fragulis Fragos: Turkish politics has always resembled the behavior of a fox. And if Moscow really will aggressively pursue a hard line in relation to Ankara, then Turkey will surrender after a while and make concessions. For example, he will offer to forget about the incident with the Su-24, declare his readiness to pay compensation for the downed aircraft, and so on.
Until recently, Russia trusted Turkey as a partner, but that was a mistake. “You can’t trust the Turks” - this is what my grandfather said, who disappeared in the so-called labor battalions created by the Turks in Asia Minor (during the Greek-Turkish war of 1919-1922, most of the Greek Christians in the occupied Turks were called up to labor battalions in which non-human conditions were created - RG comment).
The fact is that the deadlock policy of Turkey towards its neighbors - Ankara has spoiled relations with everyone, starting with Greece and Syria and ending with Israel and Iran - leading the Turks to isolation. And Erdogan, with his provocative foreign, as well as Islamist domestic policy, leads Turkey straight to a catastrophe. And, I believe that he does not need to interfere with this.
2016 year is declared the "cross" year of Russia in Greece and Greece in Russia. What are your expectations from the prospects for the development of relations between our countries?
Fragulis Fragos: Our countries are united by a common Orthodox religion, culture and values. Greece played a huge role in the fact that Orthodoxy came to the Russian people through Hellas, and Russia responded by sending Ioannis Kapodistrias and Alexander Ypsilanti (the first ruler of Greece and the hero of the national liberation war, respectively). 1821 revolution of the year.
Today, probably, it would be wrong to say that Athens and Moscow have a common enemy. But it is quite possible to say that there is a non-allied and unfriendly country next to us. And in Greece they are very much counting on the support of Russia, since Turkey is a real security threat to us.
But in order for Hellas to stand, we need a strong army. And for a powerful army, we need a strong economy. The problem is that Greece has come under the full control of the “troika” of external creditors (EU, IMF and ECB - approx. “WG”), who are striving with all their might to prevent the existence of a self-sufficient Greek economy.
Russia could support Greece, for example, through the lifting of the food embargo against the EU in relation to Greek agricultural products so that our farmers can supply their products to the Russian market. After all, our farmers suffered because of the anti-Russian policy of the European Union, which they do not share. In addition, taking into account the tourism market of Turkey that closed for obvious reasons for the Russians, the redirected flow of your tourists to Greece could also have a positive effect on our economy.
As for political support, in Athens, of course, they are counting on Moscow in the context of the Greek-Turkish differences over Cyprus, as well as in the event of the aggravation of our relations with Ankara.
Today, Greece is facing not only economic problems, but also a large-scale refugee crisis. And most of them fall on the territory of Hellas from Turkey. Is Ankara's behavior appropriate in this situation? What do you see the reasons for what is happening?
Fragulis Fragos: My country, Greece, like all of Europe, is indeed facing an unprecedentedly large number of refugees. About 850 thousand people passed through the Greek territory only. Many of these people just want to survive and suffer. We need to take this circumstance into account and help them. But this raises many questions, for example, about why the EU puts pressure on Athens, completely shifting the responsibility for protecting the external borders of the Schengen zone to the Greeks, and at the same time allocates three billion euros to Turkey, which does nothing to stop this flow .
With regard to the causes of what is happening, the relevant questions should be asked to the United States. Americans need to recognize and acknowledge the mistakes they have made in the region: Saddam, Gaddafi, Mubarak, and now Assad. In fact, the United States has created by its actions “stable instability” in the Middle East and North Africa, from which Greece is also suffering today.
Fragulis Fragos - cadre Greek military. Passed the way from a junior Greek officer special forces before the military attaché at the Greek Embassy in Turkey. From 2009 to 2011, he led the General Staff of the Greek Armed Forces for the year, and in 2012, he was appointed Acting Minister of Defense of the Hellenic Republic. In 2014, the book of General Fragos was published under the title “What is Turkey? Who are the Turks? ”In which the author, in a broad historical context, explains the essence of Ankara’s current neo-Ottoman ambitions.