Home Greece Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias’ interview on Newsbomb.gr’s “Meeting point” talk...

Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias’ interview on Newsbomb.gr’s “Meeting point” talk show with journalist Olga Tremi (Athens, 21.07.2022)

N. DENDIAS: I don’t agree about that. First of all, I would not put a balance on who is more affected, Russia or the EU.
JOURNALIST: You stated recently, about two months ago, in fact, in Newsbomb, that the casus belli is not an empty threat. Do you want to explain what exactly you meant? Is it possible that we have moved beyond the status of a hot episode and have entered a new phase, where there is fear of something even worse?
JOURNALIST: Thank you very much, Minister.
N. DENDIAS: No, we did not “cut off”. But I am telling you something. You say it’s talking to President Macron. President Macron asked to speak with President Putin and he did. France, like practically every other European country, provided military equipment to Ukraine. Germany is one of the EU countries that supplied military equipment to Ukraine. You give an impression as if Greece suddenly decided to deteriorate its relations with Russia.
JOURNALIST: Doesn’t it talk with Macron, doesn’t it talk with the Finnish, doesn’t it talk with the German?
N. DENDIAS: Yes, but I just don’t mix my personal interests with my ministerial duties.
N. DENDIAS: That’s why the Maximos Mansion and the person in charge to answer are within 150 meters. I cannot comment on that.
JOURNALIST: I’m sure you will have been briefed as well, there’s no way you haven’t been briefed; these are reasonable questions.
N. DENDIAS: In any case, it’s not the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that is in charge of military equipment. So, categorizing the country makes no sense to me. And the question is: if you still do so, what do you count? Do you count vehicles or not? Do you count helmets or not? What do you define as war material?
JOURNALIST: …to ask you something which may sound banal, ordinary. What about a cabinet reshuffle? Scenarios are being heard again. Dendias, on the other hand, appears unaffected.
JOURNALIST: Yes, I mean the institutionalization of this thing. Are we close?
N. DENDIAS: If you ask me whether I have been in contact with Sergey Lavrov since the invasion took place, the answer is negative. Not to say that we have almost nothing. But this is not personal.
Russia has done two things. First, it invaded, and secondly, in a city where there was a Greek minority – and that’s why I had informed and pleaded for their effort – the Russian response was to completely destroy that city with devastating losses. So, what kind of discussion do you think we could have with Russia?
N. DENDIAS: The black box is obviously at the plane crash site.
N. DENDIAS: Not just against Greece. Turkey has invaded several countries, including Iraq, and Northern Syria; it has sent military forces into Libya; it has been involved in the Caucasus region, and it appears to lack, to put it mildly, the same understanding of international legitimacy that we do. Consequently, how can anyone involved in Greek foreign policy, dismiss the casus belli as a mere rhetorical figure. That’s not possible.
N. DENDIAS: I don’t know whether it exists, so I can’t give you a hypothetical answer as to what should be done.
But again, the West’s material support for Ukraine is done in the name of certain principles: democracy, stability, peace, and security. Consequently, the export itself cannot undermine the values for which it is created.
But I have to say that I imagine – I don’t know – I imagine that Western countries will be particularly careful about this, particularly the big countries, which also provide a significant amount of equipment.
N. DENDIAS: First of all, you are making a working hypothesis. You say Russia is not talking to us. Are we talking to Russia?
N. DENDIAS: Why do you say that? I don’t think that…
JOURNALIST: If I understand you correctly, you are suggesting that we should not rule anything out.
JOURNALIST: It wasn’t irritated with another country as much as it was with us though; that’s what I’m trying to say.
N. DENDIAS: Again, I’m answering on the basis of general knowledge, not the specific knowledge that I’ve acquired as Minister of Foreign Affairs. I don’t know that.
JOURNALIST: What has puzzled me is the phrase “no longer”, “no longer empty of content”. As a thought, I believe that it’s being fueled by what we have seen recently from Ankara’s side, namely, this excessive escalation of aggression.
JOURNALIST: Was it us that we “cut off” the contact?
JOURNALIST: Coincidentally, three days before the plane crash… Excuse me, before I turn to another issue, is the black box in our possession or not?
N. DENDIAS: I know Mr. Çavuşoğlu very well. Consequently, if you ask me if there is a channel of communication between us, there is always a channel of communication on a personal level. But if this can be a channel of inter-state talks, I think President Erdogan in the most absolute way has interrupted that. He has broken off all contact.
N. DENDIAS: No, if you time the question and the answer you will see that you are expressing an opinion.  I respect that; there is nothing wrong with expressing an opinion, but if I may, let me state the European position.
JOURNALIST: It has a foot planted in Libya, so as to complete my thinking, and, of course, you will tell me later, because that’s the purpose in the first place. So, the question is this: Why, since we need Russia, to put it simply, have we decided to allow our relations to reach this point?
N. DENDIAS: The Greek State, but before that, let me make a general comment: Greece is a country where what’s going on rarely does not get out in the open. I close this parenthesis.
Secondly, the Greek Government has shown an open communication with Greek society, and the Investigating Authorities have the obligation to the extent that there is no issue of national security, which there is not here, to inform the public opinion about what happened.
After all, a danger has arisen for Greek citizens due to the overflight of this aircraft, without the Greek State knowing what it contained.
JOURNALIST: Let me return to what I was saying earlier. Coincidentally, three days before the plane crash, there was a query on the part of Interpol, whether there is a control of weapons, of war equipment delivered to Ukraine by the West. In the sense that the country in question is considered to have had a troubled past, that is to say it was linked with… there were suspicions of smuggling.
And it is not the only authority to raise this issue; in the US there’s also Ms. Spartz, a member of the House of Representatives, who is insisting on exactly the same thing.
So, because I believe it is crucial, I’d like to ask you whether this is something that concerns you, whether it is something that should possibly concern the competent European agencies, and whether, in your opinion, something should be done in this direction, namely to ensure that equipment is sent and remains in Ukraine and is not transported somewhere else. Because we have sent equipment as well.
N. DENDIAS: I’m not sure. I’m just saying that the messages…
N. DENDIAS: That has already been done. Albania has 12 miles and we have 12 miles. In the Ionian Sea, we have 12 miles.
N. DENDIAS: This is nothing new. I said nothing that the average Greek citizen is not aware of. The casus belli, the threat of war, Turkey is the only one in the world; no other country has issued a threat of war, even against an ally. What’s more, the war threat was issued in the event that Greece exercises its legal right to extend its territorial waters.
JOURNALIST: So, you don’t expect it to end soon.
N. DENDIAS: Thank you for inviting me and giving me this opportunity.
JOURNALIST: What we are discussing, namely, the delivery of military equipment to Ukraine, from our side, from the Greek side, has made the climate of our relations with Russia resemble the climate of Alaska.
Russia, however, is first of all related to the Cyprus issue and has made a chess move, namely, it has announced that it will establish an office for commercial and economic relations with the pseudo-state in the occupied territories, so to speak. It is also linked to the Paris Peace Treaty – as a guarantor power-; it has one foot firmly planted in Libya.
A private Serbian company, possibly linked to a person accused of smuggling by the United States, rents an aircraft from an obscure Ukrainian transport company to transfer 11.5 tons of training shells to Bangladesh according to the Serbian Defence Minister’s statement.
N. DENDIAS: What needs to be done with Albania is to refer the issue to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
The issue of the maritime border with Albania is a matter resolved on the basis of equity distance expressed by the medium line. Both the Albanians and we have extended our territorial waters to 12 miles. And where there are no 24 miles, and in a large part of my homeland Corfu there are no 24 miles, there’s the medium line.
Now, if technical discussions are required in the context of the referral to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, these can be done. But  in principle, the dispute with Albania will be resolved with a thorough understanding of International Law and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the UNCLOS: 12 miles, full rights to the islands, referral to the Hague to resolve any disputes.
N. DENDIAS: Look, I believe that Interpol, in dealing with common crime, does not always have the essential information at the level of supplying a country with war material through channels of export of war material. I imagine, however, that the exporting countries will provide the relevant assurances. There is no denying that this is something that should be done.
JOURNALIST: Based on the information I examined I believe so, but if you prefer, we can go over it again.
N. DENDIAS: I’m sorry to say that but I don’t see any progress.
N. DENDIAS: Do you mean in Mariupol? Mariupol was destroyed by Russian artillery and the Russian army.
JOURNALIST: I’m talking about sending war material, Minister. I’m referring to the delivery of military equipment and the way it was done. I’m referring to the fact that we are the fourth country in Europe and the eighth in the world as regards the delivery of war material. That is a strong gesture, to put it mildly.
N. DENDIAS: No, no. Here’s the logical leap.
N. DENDIAS: We must constantly be prepared for the worst while hoping for the best. In any case, the Turkish side has gone above and beyond the call of duty several times.
N. DENDIAS: Why did you use the term “as a guarantor power”.
N. DENDIAS: The Soviet Union was one of the signatories.
JOURNALIST: And possibly the causes of the fall. So that’s where we’ll get our knowledge.
JOURNALIST: Yes, to 12 miles.
N. DENDIAS: … It has been done. It has not been done “with”; it has been done unilaterally. Because it is our right. But it has been done with the full understanding of both sides.
JOURNALIST: You have made a demarche, but what we realize from the Serbian President’s statement is that he appears to be unaware of the issue on the one hand and even expressed the opinion that “what is the need for a demarche since”, as he put it, “this story, this case is as clear as a tear”. And I’m curious how clear it can be that an aircraft carrying such a load is flying in our FIR, and the Greek authorities have no idea.
N. DENDIAS: This is a decision of the Prime Minister, with a specific rationale, which is to create an institutional understanding of things.
He announced it in a way that leaves no room for doubt. Aside from that, I believe it is a viewpoint that, I reiterate, has a specific rationale, totally defensible. Of course, one could have a different perception of things.
N. DENDIAS: What do you mean by that?
JOURNALIST: Regarding the last point, I assume you have been informed; that’s why I’m asking you.
N. DENDIAS: The general trend and everyone is aware of it, is to decouple from Russian energy sources. That is the reality. Beyond that, the European Union is planning on how this could be addressed as well as how alternative energy sources could be available and how the deficits that we are facing could be addressed. That is not easy at all. But given the current international scenario, I believe it is wise to do so, to think about it and plan for it.
Aside from that, let us hope – it’s a very small hope, but it is good to express it – that the conditions for a change of course for Russia will be created. Because what you said about Europe being affected is very true, but let me tell you that Russia is also being affected to a great extent, as is the future of Russian society. The deficit in technology product exports to Russia is causing a huge problem both for the Russian economy and for Russia’s growth in the years to come, and I am not happy at all to tell you this.
The next generations of Russians will pay for it, and I’m not telling you that with joy. Russia as a country has offered the world community a huge cultural tradition, a vast cultural wealth, which is part of our unified European civilization. What is happening right now, actually reminds me of Churchill’s address at Fulton, Missouri in 1946, “An iron curtain is descending across Europe”.  It is an extremely sad situation for both the European Union and Russia.
Ms. Tremi, Greece is a country, which has always argued that Russia should be part of the European security architecture, and what has occurred has entirely confounded our hopes. But, in conclusion, all I want to say is that it is not our responsibility. There was a particular choice that was completely contrary to International Law and that cannot be accepted.
N. DENDIAS: There is nothing on the horizon that makes us optimistic right now. Nothing at all. The Russian narrative is completely at odds with the Ukrainian narrative and, if you like, with the narrative that is consistent with International Law. Russia claims to be conducting a ‘denazification’ operation in Ukraine, while the rest of the world believes that there is an invasion here. How do you anticipate these two aspects being reconciled?
JOURNALIST: Well, why not?  So, what caused them to react in this way?
N. DENDIAS: Didn’t these countries give…?
JOURNALIST: I am referring to quantity.
N. DENDIAS: For a number of reasons, I will limit myself to what concerns the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding this particular issue. It makes no sense for me to enter a discussion and tell you that, being in the government, I have a broader knowledge on it or…
N. DENDIAS: I had been there before the invasion of Mariupol. Following the invasion, I went to Odessa.
JOURNALIST: I’m going to linger on an aspect of the issue that, undoubtedly, does not fall within your Ministry’s competence because I see that the following question has also been raised in the Serbian press: “How is it possible, considering that these are training shells that are four times cheaper than normal shells, that such an expensive means of transport is chosen?”
After all, Minister, no country is in dying need for training shells, and I doubt it would have made a difference if they had been delayed a few days longer. It is an issue, and it raises questions as to whether it was an accident or, possibly, something else.
N. DENDIAS: As I understand it, you are expressing a different point of view than the view that the European Union as a whole has chosen.
JOURNALIST: But it is in contact with all other countries.
N. DENDIAS: I believe you are making a, if I may, a logical leap. You say “why we decided to take our relations to that point”. But we did not choose to take our relations to the point they are today.
For nearly three years, we made a huge effort, I personally did, in consultation with the Prime Minister, to improve relations with Russia, which we found to be at a not particularly good level.
JOURNALIST: Let’s turn to Greek-Turkish relations. July 20 is a somber anniversary for Cyprus and for us. Erdogan is reportedly considering annexing the occupied territories in Cyprus. In any case, his recent moves seem to be steering him in this direction, that of great influence between the pseudo-state and Turkey that borders on osmosis.
But I’d like you to tell me whether you believe that’s part of his strategy.  And whether that could be favored by the fact that we live in a climate where revisionism thrives.
JOURNALIST: I mean the evidence that you have at your disposal does not point you in that direction.
JOURNALIST: Let me begin with the Antonov case, with the crash of this aircraft in Kavala, since I believe it’s a strange story with more to it than meets the eye.
N. DENDIAS: No.
JOURNALIST: I would just be interested in hearing your reasoning. Because when one is hit, they can think about a redesign, and that’s my question anyway. That is, whether there is a notion to water-down Europe’s stance, for example, on the basis of this rationale, or whether, on the contrary, it sticks to its original view, evaluating things with different reasoning.
N. DENDIAS: Thank you for asking me, we are delighted about it. There’s going to be a conference called “Our Ocean Conference”. There’s the US Special Presidential Envoy, Mr. Kerry, and Greece has taken on the responsibility to host “Our Ocean Conference” for 2024. In fact, we will be presenting this on Monday at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center.
As you rightly put it, the main issue of this initiative is the environment, specifically the protection of the environment. Environmental protection, of course, is complemented by rules for sea management, the marine zones, and how the marine environment can be safeguarded. Obviously, the whole concept of marine wealth is an element of this discussion.
But, of course, the most important issue, which I do not think anyone can disagree with and which can be a common ground for us all, is the protection of the seas. What is happening is disastrous for humanity and future generations. The plastic alone being dumped in the Aegean and the Mediterranean is a tragedy.
JOURNALIST: Tell me something. Do you believe that this war will be over soon? So, is there any evidence that the path to a diplomatic solution is opening up or not?
N. DENDIAS: Let me begin with your last point; it’s obvious that the Turkish side is leaning towards revisionism. One would think that Turkey’s general behavior over the last period is inconsistent with International Law and inconsistent with the treaties. And the occupation of nearly 40% of the Republic of Cyprus’ territory is the full proof of this, albeit not the only one since there are many more.
But beyond that, I believe that Turkey will not make any unwise moves, such as the one you mentioned with the annexation of the northern part of the Republic of Cyprus.
N. DENDIAS: Russia invaded a sovereign country…
JOURNALIST: In any case, you have not received any response as of yet, have you?
JOURNALIST: Isn’t Italy taking initiatives with China to de-escalate tensions on the war front?  And find a solution?
JOURNALIST: Not in Mariupol, the Greek community in general, because they haven’t come here, people have stayed there. That’s what I mean.
JOURNALIST: Okay, so are we going to be able to give answers to the questions I am referring to, based on that?
JOURNALIST: It goes without saying. Do you know why I insist? Because let’s say that there is widespread skepticism in public opinion not only about this but about other issues as well. There’s a feeling that maybe we’ll never know what happened. Can you assure us that we will?
JOURNALIST: Now, Minister, let us wrap up this discussion. The upcoming winter will be extremely difficult. It will be a shocking winter. We may be facing an energy thriller; the European Commission has already recommended a 15% reduction – a cut in gas consumption. This means that industrial production will be reduced. It follows that if energy consumption is reduced, growth will be affected. So, considering that we’ve entered a pre-election time, could you explain why the government should continue?
JOURNALIST: It has been done with Albania.
JOURNALIST: Could Europe raise this issue? To put it to Mr. Zelenskyy, that is, to create a mechanism that does not seem to exist at the moment?
JOURNALIST. Of course. That’s why I’m asking you.
JOURNALIST: You had been there and seen things on the ground.
JOURNALIST: Do you still have an open line of communication with Lavrov?
JOURNALIST: No, I’m not saying that and I couldn’t make such a claim, since it’s absurd in the first place. I’m saying this, that the choices we’ve made have led our relations with Russia to a very bad point, which, I’d add, is not in our interest because it gets in the way on several fronts. I mentioned the Cyprus issue, the Paris Peace Treaty, and its presence in Libya.
N. DENDIAS: But that’s what Greek foreign policy is like. It’s like its gospel.
JOURNALIST: You got a sense of the mood prevailing in the Foreign Affairs Council. According to reports, the European Union is being hit the hardest by the sanctions, even more than Russia. And, of course, the US is somewhat out of the loop for other reasons though; it is also affected, albeit less so.
N. DENDIAS: Almost the entire European Union has taken a very specific stance. This stance is about defending the territorial integrity and the principles of the United Nations Charter, as well as the European acquis.
As a matter of course, Greece has always supported this position. You pose the question as if Greek foreign policy had a choice. Or as if the Ministry of Defence or the Greek Government had a choice. There was no other option. Russia, contrary to what it said, contrary to what I was told – I was in Moscow four days before the invasion – that it was not going to invade.
JOURNALIST: Now sticking to the Greek-Turkish issue and the topic of the halted high-level talks between the two sides, what about the dialogue between Dendias and Çavuşoğlu? Is there one? Is your counterpart responding? And if so, how important do you consider this to be? In terms of whether it could have an impact on the overall climate. Of course, I don’t think so.
JOURNALIST: Yes, I mean the demilitarization…
JOURNALIST: Minister, whether right or wrong, Russia is annoyed. Do we both agree on that?
N. DENDIAS: I don’t think it’s…
N. DENDIAS: To be honest, I don’t think the quantity of the Greek material or the timing of its shipment were what Interpol was concerned about; after all, the last issue that concerns Ukraine is about vehicles and, indeed, old vehicles.
Defence equipment, on the other hand, is obviously not just any material; it must be ensured that they are used for specific purposes. All this is being done in the name of certain principles, Ms. Tremi.
JOURNALIST: Now you’ve taken me back to International Law. I wanted to close by asking you something more…
JOURNALIST: I can’t imagine why Interpol is asking such a question though. Countries may be careful, but they don’t have the ability to control what happens to the equipment.
JOURNALIST: Without a doubt; you also made a demarche.
JOURNALIST: I don’t doubt that everything possible is being done, but do you believe that the Greek community is adequately protected today?
N. DENDIAS: In any event, in the current circumstances, what we are trying to do is to avoid further escalation. We are very far from a cordial understanding or a climate of discussion.
JOURNALIST: I am asking you a question; I am not expressing an opinion. I’m describing the situation.
JOURNALIST: No. They were, if you like, cold, but now they are frozen.  And the ice is the result of our stance on Ukraine and, in particular, due to our sending defense equipment to Ukraine.
But indeed, you are right; we are in for a difficult winter. You are absolutely right regarding energy and how it will affect our standard of living. Let us hope, but there is no evidence to support that optimism, that the issue created by the Russian invasion of Ukraine will be resolved and that Europe’s energy supply will be restored to pre-crisis levels.
N. DENDIAS: I don’t want to sound alarmist.
JOURNALIST: Let me open a parenthesis at this point. You brought up the issue of extension, that is, our legal right to extend our territorial waters to 12 miles. There is information that we are close enough with Albania to extend our territorial waters to 12 miles, which I’d like you to deny or confirm. Is that true?
N. DENDIAS: I will not comment on what President Vucic said, but what I have to say is what you have just mentioned in your question.
It goes without saying -I believe it is acknowledged by all- that the Serbian side should have informed Greece, the Civil Aviation Authority, about the cargo of this particular aircraft, in accordance with the applicable regulations and provisions.
This was not done; therefore, the Serbian side cannot claim that everything was done appropriately. This is not the case. Aside from that, of course, we are waiting for explanations through diplomatic channels.
N. DENDIAS: No, no. We can call Russia’s invasion of Ukraine whatever you like, but the reality is that Russia invaded…
JOURNALIST:  Erdogan appears to be trying to outdo the Kemalists in other areas as well. That is to say, “You invaded, I will annex. You speak of grey zones; I question the sovereignty of islands”.
I’ve essentially already asked my question, but I’d like you to elaborate on it if possible. Are these things kept at the rhetorical level, because the pursuit is obvious; or do we fear that the situation might escalate?
N. DENDIAS: However, let me explain what our involvement is in this. The Serbian side, since the plane took off from Serbia and was loaded in Serbia, and as long as it carried this specific cargo, which is not in question, should have informed us.
N. DENDIAS: So, in this regard, we did make a demarche to the Serbian side. In addition, because there is also Ukrainian involvement, concerning the aircraft, we also made a demarche to the Ukrainian government. We have requested clarification from both countries. Of course, the overall issue does not fall within the competence of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
JOURNALIST: Hello, ladies and gentlemen. You’re watching Newsbomb’s “Meeting Point” talk show with our guest, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Dendias. Thank you for your hospitality and welcome to the show.JOURNALIST: What I meant is a change of climate. I didn’t say anything about miracles. If it could possibly affect the climate.
N. DENDIAS: The Paris Peace Treaty is the one of ’47 for the Dodecanese.
So, since all this sounds somewhat strange, especially after the crash of this particular aircraft, I’d like you to tell me what your own impression is, and also tell me whether the investigations carried out in the area, our own investigations, actually support the claim that these were training shells.
JOURNALIST: Was it not accurate?
N. DENDIAS: I’m sorry but I can’t add anything more to this discussion. I understand the questions, they’re reasonable, and I believe most people share them, but it’s not something that concerns the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
N. DENDIAS: When I asked the Consul who had just returned from Mariupol-he was the last Westerner to leave-, the city had almost been occupied before he left.  When I asked him “what did you see, did you see bodies in the streets” he replied, “I didn’t see bodies, I saw parts of people”. What kind of protection are we talking about? Mariupol was treated with blatant brutality.
N. DENDIAS: Obviously, the black box contains detailed information about the course, the speed, the altitude, and the causes of the crash.
JOURNALIST: Now, sometimes issues can be addressed through the back door; and I say this because we’ve been informed that you are preparing a joint event with the Americans on the oceans. It concerns the environment, climate change, and other things as well.
N. DENDIAS: What are you referring to, the time or the quantity?
N. DENDIAS: So, when there is such a wording that has not been revoked, despite repeated Greek and not just Greek calls, how can we possibly consider it empty of content? How can we regard it solely as a rhetorical figure?

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