Balkan Chessboard (Part 2)
On November 29, we took a look at the situation in Greece and the Balkans (link
). Since that time, the situation has become more complicated largely because of the Turkish position is changing. Let’s take a look at how this is happening and at the strategic implications.
Greece ordered the expulsion of the Libyan ambassador Friday in the latest escalation of a dispute over a controversial deal signed between Libya’s U.N.-supported government and Turkey on maritime boundaries in the Mediterranean. Turkey and Libya objected but there’s not much that the Libyan ambassador can do except leave by Monday.
The Greeks have no diplomatic presence in Libya.
An agreement recently inked between Libya and Turkey will give Turkey access to an economic zone across the Mediterranean, over the objections of Greece, Cyprus and Egypt, which lie between Turkey and Libya geographically. The deal has added tension to Turkey’s ongoing dispute with Greece, Cyprus and Egypt over oil and gas drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
The matter will end up on court, but Turkey has a history of ignoring court decisions unless it’s a decision handed down by Islamic court, in Istanbul, controlled by Turkish strongman, President-for-life Erdogan. (in other words, a rubber stamp by the Turks)
The Libyan-Turkish security cooperation agreement is complicated because Libya has been divided between two competing governments since 2015, one based in Benghazi in the east and the other based in Tripoli. The Turkish deal was signed with the Tripoli-based government of Fayez Sarraj, and will allow Turkey complete access to Libyan territory including the right to construct military bases. It’s not a bad move for the Tripoli-based Libyans because they gain Turkish troops to help support their claim against the “pretenders to the throne” in Benghazi.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis sought the support of fellow NATO members on the issue during an alliance meeting in London earlier this week, but because both Turkey and Greece are members of NATO, it’s sticky.
For Turkey, it’s a pattern that they are deliberately pursuing in an attempt to spread their military and political influence through the Mediterranean. They’re trying to forge the same relationships with other weak and divided nations with the promise of military and financial aid.
Then there is the issue with Cyprus. Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded the country and seized the northern part of the island, where it currently has 35,000 troops. And then gas was discovered on the ocean floor and the Turks started drilling not only adjacent to their claimed territory but in the maritime zone claimed by Greece.
Will Athens support the Greek Cypriot maritime territorial claim with naval action against ongoing drilling? Reliable sources tell me that it’s being considered. However, the Greek military operates on a budget half the size of the Turkish military, it has a much smaller army and navy and is at a significant disadvantage without allies to back its play. Both the Greeks and Turks run similar submarine fleets (built in Germany or under license). Their naval forces are roughly comparable. The disproportionate numbers are largely to be found with the land armies. The Greeks traditionally rely on tank-busting helicopters to sway the odds in their favor.
The Christian Greeks are attempting to base their appeal to their long time British and American allies along religious lines. The Turkish (Islamic) caliphate is working hard to keep that from happening.