US military build-up against Russia exacerbates tensions between Turkey and Greece
US plans to deploy naval forces to Alexandroupoli, which serves as a major transshipment hub in NATO’s war against Russia in Ukraine, are further heightening tensions between Greece and Turkey.
Last week, the Greek daily Kathimerini reported that “the US Navy is interested in the port of Alexandroupoli”, adding: “Senior US military officials have offered to further deepen and expand the port with a view to accommodating and supplying US-class destroyers Arleigh Burke”.
These destroyers “carry guided missiles and have extensive electronic warfare capabilities”. The US deployment of these ships in the North Aegean Sea would be an important step in encircling Russia and increasing US and NATO combat power in the region.
These plans and Greece’s ongoing air rearmament are creating fear in Ankara. Greece received its first two F-16 military jets from the United States last week, part of a $1.5 billion program to modernize its fighter fleet. There are growing fears in Ankara that Greece will have a more powerful air force than Turkey within the next decade.
This military buildup in the Balkans is part of NATO’s relentless eastward expansion and militarization of Eastern Europe since Stalin’s dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The additional protocol to the mutual defense and cooperation agreement signed between the United States and Greece in 2019 included the modernization of the Suda military base on the Greek island of Crete, the renovation of the Larissa airport, the military reinforcement of the Stefanovikeio air base between Volos and Larissa, and the expansion and modernization of the port of Alexandroupoli. These steps, constituting the Greek component of the war preparations of the United States and NATO against Russia, have been largely carried out.
In addition, the United States has signed military cooperation agreements with Romania and Bulgaria, both of which became members of NATO in 2004. American troops were deployed there at military bases that opened at the beginning of the 2000s.
These bases are of strategic importance in the US-NATO war against Russia, to arm Ukrainian forces with NATO weapons. Turkey’s decision to close the Turkish Strait between the Aegean and Black Seas to all warships immediately after the start of the war in Ukraine, in accordance with the Montreux Convention, further increased the port’s importance. ‘Alexandroupolis. Kathimerini reported: “Thousands of troops, tanks, helicopters and other supplies for US forces and other NATO forces were quickly and effectively deployed to Eastern Europe.”
At this point, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan raised objections to the growing US military presence in Greece, particularly the Alexandroupoli base near the Turkish border.
In May, Erdoğan accused the nine Washington-built military bases in Greece of targeting Turkey: “Look, Greece currently owes Europe 400 billion euros. There are nine US bases in Greece right now. So against whom are these bases established, why are these bases there? This is what they say: “Against Russia…” That’s a lie. … They are not honest. Their attitude towards Turkey in the face of all this is obvious.
Additionally, Turkish officials have made belligerent statements questioning Athens’ sovereignty over the islands and making open threats on the grounds that Greece had illegally armed them. On Sunday, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported: “Video footage [taken by Turkish army] showed that the landing ships carried military vehicles donated by the United States to the islands of Midilli (Lesvos) and Sisam (Samos).
Moreover, Ankara accused Athens of locking the radar of Turkish warplanes during NATO missions with S-300 missiles in late August and early September. In early September, the Greek Coast Guard fired warning shots at a merchant ship in the Aegean Sea.
Ankara, which has strong energy, trade and military ties with Moscow, fears that the US-NATO war against Russia will harm the interests of the Turkish bourgeoisie. Turkey’s approach to Russia is different from that of other NATO member states. Ankara has tried to mediate, organizing a “grain corridor” from Ukraine under UN auspices or the recent “prisoner exchange” between Ukraine and Russia. As NATO imperialist powers prepare for nuclear war with Russia, Erdoğan calls for ‘negotiated settlement’.
While Ankara continues to sell armed drones to Ukraine and opposes Russia’s annexation of Crimea, it is also strengthening its economic and political ties with Moscow and not participating in US sanctions against Russia. In fact, he was recently accused of violating sanctions through banks and some ports in Turkey.
In the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, in the NATO wars in Syria and Libya, Turkey has sought an agreement with Russia rather than with its NATO allies. The Erdoğan government is trying to maneuver between its NATO allies and their main targets, namely Russia and China. The tensions caused by this policy, which fuels the desire of NATO powers such as the United States and France to strengthen military ties with Greece in Eastern Europe, have already flared up once, in 2016, during a failed coup attempt against Erdoğan.
Erdoğan’s visit to Uzbekistan for the 22nd Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit, after which he declared his goal of joining the organization, further angered his allies in NATO capitals.
Erdoğan spoke to PBS in New York after the 77th UN General Assembly right after the SCO summit. Asked, “You intend to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. This organization includes Russia, China and Iran. Do you want your country to be part of the east or the west? replied Erdoğan: “I must say very clearly that we are part of the world, neither of the east nor of the west… But the European Union has blocked us for 52 years… We are maybe – inevitably being in a situation where we are looking for different things.
Erdoğan hypocritically attacked Greece, posing as an “advocate” for refugees, during his speech to the UN General Assembly. Holding a picture of two children who drowned in the Aegean Sea, he said: “Greece is turning the Aegean Sea into a refugee graveyard with its illegal and reckless pushbacks. It is high time that Europe and the United Nations institutions say ‘Stop’ to these atrocities which constitute crimes against humanity.
Responding to Erdogan at the UN, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said, “The boats carrying the desperate people that President Erdoğan talks about are leaving Turkish shores in broad daylight”, and blamed Turkey for the crisis. “If President Erdoğan wants to talk about red lines,” he continued, “then I say this: Turkish claims to the sovereignty of the Greek islands are baseless and unacceptable. The questioning of the sovereignty of Greek territory crosses a red line for all Greeks.
In reality, the Turkish and Greek governments, which supported the imperialist wars in the Middle East and are part of the reactionary European Union agreement against refugees, are jointly responsible for the catastrophe facing the refugees who drown in the Aegean Sea, held in camps or forced to remain in poverty in Turkey.
The danger that the capitalist governments of Turkey and Greece, faced with growing working class opposition and explosive geopolitical tensions, could provoke war is very serious. Despite the aggression of the Turkish and Greek bourgeoisies, there is neither enthusiasm nor support for the war among the workers. According to a recent poll, 64% of Turks believe that there is no enmity between the Turkish and Greek peoples.
In order to prevent a devastating war, this anti-war sentiment, which is dominant among the working class on both sides of the Aegean, must be mobilized into a conscious movement and organized on the basis of an international socialist program put forward only by the International Committee of the Fourth International.