Geopolitical Chess in the Mediterranean
For the past few months, there has been a realignment of alliances throughout the eastern Mediterranean. Greece has been spearheading a realignment through new economic treaties and a renaissance of old friendships that will shape both economic and foreign policy agendas for decades to come. Between the military armaments deal with France to that of economic cooperation between Egypt, Israel, and Cyprus, the Mitsotakis administration has taken bold steps to shift the political and economic discourse regarding Greece. For Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, he would like to see Greece become the “battery of Europe” and forge political alliances that would limit the bellicose stance of neighboring Turkey.
Last month, Greece signed new economic agreements with Cyprus, Israel, and Egypt that will have long-lasting consequences for energy independence. Underground cables linking the four countries will bring clean energy into the Balkans and reduce the countries’ dependence on fossil fuels. For those countries producing the energy, there will be significant financial gains. Within Greece, wind farms and a deliberate reduction in lignite mining/usage is helping generate clean energy for the country. Already, the 45-megawatt wind power park at Livadi, Central Greece, is projected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 48,000 tons per year, while also generating electricity for more than 28,000 households.
On a military-strategic level, Mitsotakis purchased three French frigates with weaponry for $3.5 billion dollars at the end of September. The frigates armaments include the Aster 30 B1 and the Exocet MM40 Block 3C missiles, which represent cutting-edge technology. This purchase came on the heels of another purchase – 24 Rafale fighter jets – from the French maker Dassault and coincided with the signing of a strategic defense partnership by Mitsotakis and French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron on behalf of their respective countries. The purchases and strategic defense partnership with France heralded a new strategic alliance for Greece. The following month, Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Dendias, bolstered Greece’s ties to the United States by renewing the US-Greek mutual defense cooperation agreement that would remain in force ‘indefinitely’ while also giving the United States the right to access any Greek military bases (including Alexandroupolis, Crete, Litochoro, and Larissa).
Overall, the combined alliances and agreements have had a seismic effect on the region. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan immediately reacted to the news. Erdogan voiced his displeasure regarding the military purchases and also the strategic alliances that were reaffirmed and strengthened. As a tit for tat, Erdogan swiftly concluded an armaments purchase from Spain and also secured their political support against Greece. Erdogan’s friendly relations with Russia grew even closer and this support has given him the confidence to engage in increasingly belligerent actions against Greece. Ergodan also sent a clear message of his disapproval of the US agreement by threatening to expel ten Western ambassadors. As Bradley Bowman and Aykan Erdemir state in their article in Foreign Policy (https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/10/26/us-greece-erdogan-turkey-defense-security-nato-russia/), the current tensions between Greece and Turkey are more than just a localized conflict. Rather, bigger geopolitical stakes are at play. It remains to be seen if the tensions will remain at a manageable simmer or whether this “Balkan cauldron” will spill over into an armed conflict. Stay tuned…