Comments made by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that questioned a border treaty with Greece should be of concern to the entire European Union, implied Greece Deputy Defense Minister Dimitris Vitsas.
In an interview with Defense News, Vitsas reiterated the country's support for Turkey post coup, a situation that "was a threat of destabilization of wide dimensions" for the whole region. But he also noted concern with a recent suggestion by Erdogan in an address that the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne cannot be considered a "victory," because Turkey lost to Greece several islands near its coast.
The Treaty of Lausanne settled the conflict that had originally existed between the Ottoman Empire since World War I.
"The relations between Greece and Turkey need stability and mutual trust so that we can deal with whatever issues appear, [while] always knowing that Greece knows perfectly well whatever is under its own sovereignty," Vitsas said through an interpreter. "I can't interpret Erdogan's statements. But I want to say whoever contests the Lausanne Treaty contests the borders of the European Union."
Vitsas comments reinforce those made by Defense Minister Panos Kammenos a week ago, who stated that "efforts to cast doubt on international treaties lead to dangerous paths."
Beyond Turkey, Vitsas addressed the friendlier relationship with Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin sealed a number of economic deals during a visit to Greece in the summer, as well as a new partnership between Greece and Russia to manufacture Kalashnikov rifles. To become official, the deal would require NATO partners to lift economic sanctions put in place following the annexation of Crimea.
The situation has raised concerns among NATO members.
"Our relations with Russia cannot effect our relations with NATO, especially in a period where borders belong to cooperation, even between countries that in the past had barriers between them," Vitsas said. "Relationships Russia cultivates with other countries within NATO [are] based on a mutual respect. For the Ukrainian crisis, our position is steady for a resolution of problems without the use of force. I reiterate, there is no reason for concern."
Efforts to foster positive relations and partnership with Turkey and Russia, as well as Israel, are a necessity for Greece, Vitsas noted, both to ensure regional security and to offset challenges the country has faced in the wake of its economic crisis. Greece lost 25 percent of its own GDP, and unemployment currently hovers at about 23 percent. The defense sector has suffered "a shock of reductions," he added, with the budget going from about 6 billion euros to 3 billion euros.
At the same time, Greece struggles to manage the influx of refugees flowing in from Syria and elsewhere, with Vitsas calling upon other countries within the EU to "share the burden...because the problem is not a Greek problem. It is a European and international one."
"In these circumstance we try to be as ready and as prepared as before with less means," Vitsas continued. "And we believe we've achieved this in a satisfactory manner."
Jill Aitoro is editor of Defense News. She is also executive editor of Sightline Media's Business-to-Government group, including Defense News, C4ISRNET, Federal Times and Fifth Domain. She brings over 15 years’ experience in editing and reporting on defense and federal programs, policy, procurement, and technology.