Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, following a Cabinet meeting on Monday, harshly criticized Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who asked that the US decline to sell dozens of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey during an address to the US Congress last week.
The US got its share of Erdoğan’s anger as he criticized the US’s growing military presence in the neighboring country. “There are nearly 10 [US] bases in Greece,” he claimed. “Who is being threatened with these bases? Why are these bases being established in Greece?”
Erdoğan had previously stated on November 13, 2021 that Greece itself had become a US military base following a meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in Ankara.
“At the moment, I can’t count all the American bases in Greece, there are so many. … It almost looks like Greece itself is a US base,” Erdoğan had said.
The supposed US military bases in Greece are frequently brought up by the government-funded Turkish media and nationalist circles that support the government. Claiming that US bases are targeting Turkey, pro-government experts give contradictory numbers of bases.
Speaking to the state-run Anadolu news agency on Wednesday, Ali Bakeer, an assistant professor of international relations at Qatar University, which is in close cooperation with universities run by Erdoğan’s son Bilal, argued that using Greece to undermine Turkey is an “old and typical strategy” of some Western powers.
“Deploying more US troops to Greece will disrupt NATO’s powers and will only encourage Athens to pursue risky policies and play the role of spoiler more often,” Bakeer said. This would be highly dangerous to regional stability and security as Athens might overstep its limits, he added.
Bakeer also claimed that if things escalate between Athens and Ankara, the US would not come to the rescue of Greece as some might incorrectly believe.
According to a news story published by the neo-nationalist Aydınlık daily, the media organ of the pro-Russian Vatan (Homeland) Party, which staunchly supports Erdoğan, a series of NAVTEX (navigational telex) messages was issued by Turkey in the wake of Erdoğan’s most recent remarks aimed at Greece and the US.
Issued by Turkey’s İzmir Station, Turkish NAVTEXs claim that previous Greek NAVTEX messages numbered LA43-112/22, LA46-115/22 and LA47-116/22 that included the islands of Lemnos, Samothrace and İstirati violated the non-military status determined by the 1923 Lausanne Peace Treaty.
The pro-Erdoğan Yeni Safak newspaper in a story titled “US bases everywhere in Greece” claimed that the US planned to add four more military bases to its existing five in Greece. In addition to the İskiri Early Warning Base, Salamis Naval Base and Kastelli, Kalamata and Andravida air bases, the Yanuli headquarters in Alexandroupoli, the firing range in Litochoro, the Yeorgula headquarters around Stefanovikio Military Airport and the Larissa Military base have also been allocated to the United States, while the Souda Naval Base in Crete would be expanded.
Pro-government military expert Mete Yarar, a regular guest on prime time talk shows, told CNN Türk that considering the fact that both countries are members of NATO, it does not make sense to establish a military base in a non-strategic area like Alexandroupoli.
In December 2021 Mesut Hakkı Caşın, the Turkish president’s advisor on security and foreign policy, said the “arms assistance to Greece” scares him the most, during an online panel discussion organized by the Association of Justice Defenders Strategic Studies Center (ASSAM), a front organization run by private military contractor SADAT, which many believe is a de facto paramilitary force loyal to Erdoğan.
“… American-Greek cooperation has been challenging us in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean. There are 20 US military bases in Greece. We see that Turkey has difficulties in Alexandroupoli and Crete,” Caşın told viewers.
However, there’s only one actual US base in Greece, at Souda Bay, which the US has operated since 1969. American forces have been granted access to four additional Greek bases according to the US-Greece Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement (MDCA) signed in October 2021 and ratified by the Greek parliament on May 13.
Anadolu reported on May 13 that the agreement will “allow the US military to gain access to three more bases in Greece in addition to the current one it operates.”
According to Anadolu, the defense agreement will permit the US military to use Georgula Barracks in Greece’s central province of Volos, the Litochoro Training Ground and an army barracks in the northeastern port city of Alexandroupoli, apart from the naval base at Souda Bay in Crete.
Some pro-government experts attribute the increasing American military presence in Greece to the uneasy relations and a crisis of confidence between Turkey and the US in recent years. According to them, the US has disrupted the balance that had been carefully maintained since the Cold War between its two NATO allies in favor of Greece instead of Turkey.
Nurşin Güney of İstanbul’s Nişantaşı University claims the US is preparing for the “bad scenario.” Washington is making deterrence of Russia visible through the US bases on the Black Sea-Aegean-Mediterranean line for the eventuality that Turkey moves away from the Western alliance.
Meanwhile, the opposition seems to also have been influenced by the government’s rhetoric about the American military presence in Greece. Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu tweeted yesterday that “.. the US filled Greece with bases. Their goals are clear.”
He also asked the government to submit a proposal for the closure of US military facilities in Turkey.
“We will support it in parliament with the spirit of Kuvayi Milliye [militia forces in the early period of the Turkish War of Independence]. We are as against foreign soldiers on our land as we’re against neoliberalism. We are ready to do whatever is necessary. So are you ready, owners of power?” he added.