HomeGreeceMinister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias’ interview with “Kathimerini tis Kyriakis” newspaper...

Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias’ interview with “Kathimerini tis Kyriakis” newspaper and journalist Vasilis Nedos (24.07. 2022)

JOURNALIST: A few days ago, the accession negotiations of North Macedonia and Albania with the EU started. Do you believe that this process will allow the remaining bilateral differences to be resolved?
N. DENDIAS: Turkish provocative conduct goes beyond not only the rules of International Law, but also the very limits of reason. We have recently intensified our campaign to inform allies, partners, and international public opinion, always acting in a calm and decisive way. When it comes to violations and overflights, let us speak in numbers. Until the 30th of June, the Turkish air force carried out 3,954 violations and 136 overflights over Greek territory. There’s no need for further comment.
In an ever-changing environment, we have to adapt while clearly defining our country’s position.
In this rather dismal climate, however, I’d like to convey some optimism. I hope that following the elections in Turkey, regardless of the election result, conditions will prevail which could allow for a gradual improvement in relations. Relations between Greece and Turkey have not always been, and should not be, antagonistic. We must not forget the periods of calm, however brief they may have been. As in the 1930s, when Venizelos and Atatürk signed a friendship pact. Or in the early 1950s, when the two countries fought alongside each other in the Korean War and then joined NATO.
JOURNALIST. It’s been 48 years since the beginning of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. How close are we to a possible resumption of a credible process to resolve the Cyprus issue?
The aim is to promote our country internationally, enhance its role and expand its alliances, and shield it from any threat. Greece is considered a reliable pillar of stability and security in the region. I believe that we have achieved enough and that we should feel satisfied. However, we continue. Next week we are hosting an event ahead of the 9th International Conference “Our Ocean Greece 2024” to be held in our country; I will welcome my counterparts from Gabon and Germany; I will travel to Cyprus, followed by Vietnam and Cambodia.
N. DENDIAS: Allow me to underline our great satisfaction that the first intergovernmental conference with Albania and North Macedonia has finally taken place. We have repeatedly stated that the European perspective of the Western Balkans, particularly in a volatile environment, is a one-way street for peace, security, and stability. Furthermore, at a time when the number of candidate countries is increasing, it is critical to send a clear message to the countries of the region. Greece will continue to be their partner at both political and technical level. Of course, the well-known conditionality, as reflected in the conclusions of the European Council of March 2021, still applies. The states’ path to accession will depend on their ability to meet the criteria.
I will never forget the hospitality of Turkish citizens when I was on a private visit to Istanbul in 2019.
Souda Bay has been a strategic choice over time. It is located close to three straits that carry much of the world’s trade, namely the Strait of Gibraltar, the Bosporus, and the Suez Canal. At the same time, these two areas enhance our deterrent capacity to resist any revisionist movements that arise in the region.
JOURNALIST: It’s been five months since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. There is no indication though of an early end to the hostilities. At the same time, pressure is mounting on European citizens. Greece has taken a clear position. But are there any second thoughts? Might a break in relations with Russia be to our detriment?
N. DENDIAS: The recent US F-35 exercise in Souda Bay was the first time that a squadron of this advanced generation aircraft was deployed to another base. It was also the first time a live-fire exercise was conducted in Europe. These elements alone demonstrate the strategic depth of the relationship between Greece and the US.
JOURNALIST: You were in Souda, where the Hellenic Armed Forces conducted an exercise with US F-35 αaircraft. US officials express their satisfaction with the smooth cooperation in Alexandroupolis and Souda. Is there room for further strengthening of relations with the US?
Alexandroupoli is a significant new strategic alternative. It’s an energy hub, but also a transit station for forces to enhance NATO’s eastern wing’s security. It entered the security map of the country and NATO through the first protocol of amendment to the Mutual Defence Cooperation Agreement (MDCA), which I had the honor of signing.
However, those who believe that the problem in Greek-Turkish relations is the President of the neighboring country and that once he left office, the challenges would miraculously disappear are deluded. The issue is not, and has never been, personal. The surge of nationalism is now threatening to spread to Turkish society, most of which has been friendly to our country. It is a recent change, as evidenced by the surveys, unlike my personal experience a few years ago.
Greece’s position has been and remains clear. We do not discount the principles upon which our policy is based; neither do all the EU member states. And we recognize that this policy comes at a high cost. But the cost would have been considerably higher if we had not taken this principled stance. But since you mentioned Russia, let me make three remarks.
N. DENDIAS: As I described earlier, the basic principles of Greek foreign policy remain stable. Our policy is not determined by the vacillations of Turkish foreign and domestic policy. We are a member state of the EU and we are proceeding with confidence. We are broadening our horizons, and developing alliances and partnerships with all countries that share our values. Briefly, let me say that, since taking office, I have visited 62 countries, made 1,123 international contacts, and signed 215 international agreements.
Third, Greece and Russia share traditional historical, cultural, and religious ties. Russia is home to world-renowned writers, poets, and musicians. We will not stop reading Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Mayakovsky or listening to Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev because of the invasion of Ukraine.
Second. Greece has always supported Russia’s participation in a “common European home”, to use Mikhail Gorbachev’s words. We believe that Russia should be part and parcel of the European Security Architecture, but it should respect the fundamental rules, which is not the case today.
JOURNALIST: You’ve been serving as Minister of Foreign Affairs for the past three years. Has our policy changed? Have the objectives you set been achieved?
N. DENDIAS: Mr. Nedos, we sincerely wish that channels of communication with Ankara were open. We still look forward to a constructive dialogue. We believe that a solution exists and that it is within our grasp. To achieve this solution though, Turkey must stop violating fundamental rules of International Law and the Law of the Sea. We are not asking for anything unrealistic. We are asking Turkey to adhere to the principles and values that all states that have signed the UN Charter and the NATO Treaty, and aspire to join the EU must respect.
Despite the change of climate that we are witnessing, I believe that a substantial part of Turkish society still looks forward to a European future. However, under the current circumstances, there is no room for significant improvement in bilateral relations. At the same time, Turkish revisionism is constantly making up new theories. Positions that were initially presented as extreme and grey, such as the “Blue Homeland”, the link between the demilitarization of the islands and their sovereignty, are gradually becoming part of the Turkish state’s official doctrine. It is positive, however, that even our most skeptical allies and partners recognize the absurdity and unacceptability of Turkish claims. I see this whenever I present the disputed map to my counterparts, who are fully aware of the complete absurdity of the Turkish position.
N. DENDIAS: As regards the Bahçeli map, the Foreign Ministry, as well as, of course, the Prime Minister have taken a position. Under different circumstances, a similar event would be described as eccentric or ridiculous. However, in the context of the current atmosphere, it becomes alarming and dangerous, particularly as it comes from a government partner. It is part of the neighboring country’s escalating nationalist rhetoric against our country. This rhetoric is not limited to a section of government circles but appears to be embraced by part of the opposition. We believe that this rhetoric is linked to the growing polarization within Turkey ahead of the 2023 elections.
N. DENDIAS: Thank you for this question, Mr. Nedos. The answer to that question is clear. We need to understand that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has upended the post-Cold War geopolitical order in Europe and beyond. Unfortunately, we are now witnessing the creation of a new ‘iron curtain’ dividing Europe, to paraphrase Winston Churchill’s famous quote. The fundamental difference with that era is that it is a division of principles and values rather than an ideological divide. On the one hand, there are countries that embrace principles such as respect for International Law, the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states, human rights, and democracy. And on the other hand, there are countries that obviously either do not embrace these positions or have an ambivalent attitude.
N. DENDIAS: Unfortunately, as you point out, it’s been 48 years since the Turkish invasion, and the Cyprus problem remains an unresolved international issue of illegal invasion and occupation. Greece, in coordination with the Republic of Cyprus, is working to achieve a just, functional and viable solution. This solution can only be a Bi-communal Bi-zonal Federation, within the framework set by the relevant UN Security Council resolutions. Unfortunately, Turkey’s and the Turkish Cypriot leadership’s unacceptable and persistent claims for a ‘two-state solution’, as well as the illegal actions in Varosha, fall completely outside the framework of the solution. They leave no room for optimism for a meaningful and credible negotiation process to resume.
Firstly, the Mitsotakis government has made efforts to enhance bilateral relations with Russia since taking office. Unfortunately, these relations have broken down although not through our fault.
JOURNALIST: Turkish officials accuse Greece of hypocrisy, claiming that the Turkish air force is simply responding to overflights by the Hellenic Air Force over Turkish territory. How do you react to these claims?
JOURNALIST: A few days ago, another map appeared, this time from the far-right Devlet Bahçeli, a partner in Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government. Do you think there is a real threat?
JOURNALIST: In recent years there has been an ongoing debate on Greek-Turkish relations that often comes to the simplistic conclusion that a conflict is, in the end, unavoidable. Is there any prospect of improving relations, however small?

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