Greece modernizes army with new helicopters and frigates, updates US defense pact
Despite its struggling economy and escalating tensions with neighboring Turkey, Greece is continuing to overhaul its army, according to its defense minister.
Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos said that “the acquisition of high-end weapon systems” would include the purchase of anti-submarine warfare helicopters, as well as the modernization of four frigates already in the Hellenic Navy and F-16s. in his air force. Greece is in the process of “reorganizing all of our armed forces”, notably by acquiring four frigates, and the country is updating its defense pact with the United States.
He added that Greece is also committed to modernizing the port of Alexandroupolis on its northeast coast to “be NATO’s transport hub” in the Balkans and its logistics base for sea operations. Black. He said elements of the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army recently used the facilities as part of the Exercise Defender Europe 21.
“Our aspiration is to do [the port and the mutual defense agreement] even better, ”he said during a Online forum of the Center for Strategic and International Studies Tuesday. For the port, improvements include extending the jetties to accommodate larger ships and expanding its fuel storage facilities. Other work concerns rail, road and pipeline links to the rest of Europe.
He called the Souda Bay base on the Greek island of Crete “the jewel in the crown” of regional naval facilities for the US and NATO because it can accommodate US aircraft carriers – as it has. made in March, with the arrival of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) – and other large warships.
He described Greece as the “anchor state” of the United States and NATO in the Eastern Mediterranean.
However, on several occasions in the forum, he mentioned Greece’s economic constraints which affect all of its public spending. The problem dates back to the debt crisis of 2015, when Athens defaulted on more than $ 1.93 billion in debt to the International Monetary Fund. Restrictions were then placed on what Athens could do domestically and with security spending.
“I would say we are extremely active” in security operations “in the unstable Eastern Mediterranean,” Panagiotopoulos said. He mentioned his participation in joint and combined exercises like the Defender series and the fulfillment of Greece’s commitment to NATO to modernize its forces in light of Russia’s capture of Crimea and support the separatists Ukrainians from 2014.
But for the Greeks, what makes the Eastern Mediterranean particularly “volatile” are Turkey’s “neo-Ottoman” ambitions, which threaten not only Greece but also the integrity of the NATO alliance, a declared Panagiotopoulos.
Greece gained independence from the Ottoman Empire, the forerunner of modern Turkey, 200 years ago.
He said Greece recently put its maritime forces on alert when a Turkish research vessel entered waters Athens claims to be its own to explore possible energy deposit sites. A more immediate threat came in March 2020, he said, when Ankara threatened to send thousands of migrants and refugees to Greece unless the European Union increased payments to Turkey for take care of them. The EU has complied with Turkish requests.
He said these were not isolated incidents. He cited last year’s confrontation between French and Turkish naval forces off Libya as another example where Ankara was out of step with the alliance’s goals. Earlier this year, French President Emmanuel Macron criticized Turkey for becoming more autocratic and putting us “in a mad situation in Syria” when it attacked the NATO-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. He said Ankara ignored the importance of the alliance in protecting its own sovereignty against a revisionist Russia.
Panagiotopoulos did not mention the measures taken by the United States against Turkey to purchase a Russian-made S-400 air defense system. Among these steps was Ankara’s withdrawal from the F-35 Lightning II joint combat program.
“We will continue to comply with international law, not gunboat diplomacy,” to settle disputes with Turkey, Panagiotopoulos said. He noted that the hotline established by NATO between the two armies was an important step towards deconfliction, but that diplomacy was more important. Panagiotopoulos declared that “our strategic objective has never been to isolate Turkey”, but its actions and its “rhetoric on the border of the belligerents”.
“We want Turkey to be part of the regional cooperation program that Greece has established with Cyprus, Israel, Arab states, Egypt and Libya through new economic and diplomatic agreements,” he said. .
Assessing the Kremlin’s threat to the eastern Mediterranean, Panagiotopoulos said Russia “has always sought a presence in warm waters”, already having a naval base in Syria. The Eastern Mediterranean “is closer to its strategic interests” and Russia will maintain a strong presence.
Noting the failure of Russia’s disinformation campaign to influence a vote on North Macedonia’s NATO membership, he added that Moscow “will continue to [try to] exert its influence in the Balkans. “
China, on the other hand, “sees itself as a rising superpower”, advancing its economic and trade interests “very methodically, very patiently, very systematically” in the eastern Mediterranean. Panagiotopoulos said Beijing “has chosen to invest in a series of ports” and airfields in Europe. One of these ports is Piraeus, which is near Athens. The reason the Greeks accepted China’s offer was that “no one else chose” to spend there. He added that China’s activities in Greece have been limited to infrastructure projects.
While Beijing uses “soft power” in Europe, Panagiotopoulos noted that it threatens the force of “hard power” in other regions, notably the South China Sea. The two powers must reach a “modus vivendi” to avoid a military crisis that would affect more countries than the United States and China, he said.