HomeGreeceMinister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias’ interview with “Parapolitika” newspaper and journalist...

Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias’ interview with “Parapolitika” newspaper and journalist Kostas Papachlimintzos (17.09.2022)

JOURNALIST: The war in Ukraine has been going on for almost seven months and there seems to be no hope of peace on the horizon. How should the international community act towards Russia from now on?
N. DENDIAS: On the issue of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Greece took a clear position from the very first moment. We unequivocally condemned the invasion, as it is completely contrary to the core of the principles we stand for as a country: respect for International Law, territorial integrity, and the sovereignty of all states. On the basis of these principles, we have been engaged in forming a solid front within the EU and have implemented all the sanctions packages. Sanctions which, I’d like to emphasize, constitute a response, but they are not directed against the Russian people, with whom we share historical ties and whose contribution to European culture, literature, poetry, music, and theatre, we continue to honour. It goes without saying that as international community, we have no choice but to continue to defend these principles as long as the Russian invasion continues. At the same time, of course, we will continue to emphasize the need for the international community to confront in the same unequivocal manner, with the same clear voice, and with the same determination any additional revisionism that poses a threat to peace and stability.
N. DENDIAS: The gathering of officials from every nation in the world in New York presents a unique opportunity for contacts. In a nutshell, over the course of 5 days, I anticipate achieving two main goals through at least 30 contacts: First, to discuss with traditional friends and allies the developments in our wider region and the shared effort to consolidate regional stability. Additionally, there’s always an opportunity to further strengthen bilateral relations through these contacts. I am scheduled to meet with my European counterparts, the US Secretary of State at the Transatlantic Dinner, as well as counterparts from countries such as Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, India, and Armenia. Secondly, I will have the opportunity to meet counterparts from countries with which we have little current contact but we hope to expand our relations, that is African countries such as Mozambique, Madagascar, and Mauritania, as well as countries I have visited such as Rwanda and Senegal, and countries in Latin America and Asia, such as the Philippines, Palau, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and Ecuador. By signing agreements, we wish to open a new chapter of cooperation with these countries, at a bilateral and multilateral level. And, of course, to promote our candidacies to the UN bodies, namely, for a seat on the Security Council for the 2025-2026 term, our participation in the Human Rights Council for the 2028-30 term, and the Presidency of the General Assembly in 2035.
N. DENDIAS: Let me start with the last point of your question. We do not underestimate these threats at all; much less are we complacent.  We take them very seriously. We are witnessing an unprecedented escalation of rhetoric against our country. We have never witnessed such rhetoric before, not even during major crises. It is particularly worrying that this rhetoric is being reproduced by Turkish officials and the Turkish media on a daily basis. Additionally, an informal competition has begun between parties, including the opposition, on nationalist rhetoric. We shouldn’t just attribute it to election-related considerations. This is a lasting shift of attitude, which, unfortunately, is grafting itself onto Turkish society. These are direct threats to invade Greek territory rather than potential ones. At the same time, Turkey has been indulging in a continuous effort to smear the public image of our country by spreading fake news. Even further than revisionism, this rhetoric enters the realm of extreme nationalist rhetoric and the ‘dream’ of the Ottoman Empire’s revival. In the face of this unprecedented challenge, we respond calmly. We send a message of responsibility and highlight the threats to regional stability and security. We will not be drawn into an Eastern-style confrontation and polarization at the behest of the adversary, shaped by this novel Turkish narrative. We will not tolerate any attempt for questioning the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country. We safeguard our interests, always on the basis of International Law and the International Law of the Sea. We have strengthened the country geopolitically, through the establishment of a dense framework of bilateral strategic agreements and joint commitment with a number of countries having a perception of geopolitical stability. We are engaged in a sustained campaign to inform our partners and allies, as well as international public opinion. It is gratifying to know that our friends and allies now embrace and support the Greek positions because that indicates that our efforts are bearing fruit.
JOURNALIST. Mr. Erdogan has made a new tour of the Balkans. Even the Serbian President, Aleksandar Vučić spoke of a “golden age” in their bilateral relations. Are you concerned about Turkey’s growing influence in our northern “neighbourhood”?
N. DENDIAS: In January 2021 I had the honour, acting in the name of the government, to submit to the Hellenic Parliament, the bill for the extension of the territorial waters in the Ionian Sea, down to Cape Tainaron, at 12 nautical miles. This is a bill of historic significance, as for the first time since 1947 the Parliament was called upon to vote on an extension of our national territory, exercising a sovereign right under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. In fact, in Article 1, paragraph 2 of this law, our country clearly states that it reserves the right to exercise the corresponding right in other parts of its territory, as well. Therefore, the extension of the territorial waters to 12 nautical miles is an inalienable right as explicitly stipulated by International Law, which our country will exercise anywhere and anytime it chooses, in order to defend our national interests.
N. DENDIAS: Let me reverse your question, as the real issue at stake is whether the European Union and NATO allies are satisfied with Turkey’s attitude. Turkey’s geopolitical significance has grown as a result of its part in securing a deal to export grain from Ukraine with Russia’s consent, at least in the eyes of some allies and the UN. But that does not absolve it. Turkey is not implementing sanctions against Russia. It serves as a haven for Russian oligarchs, as well as persons banned from entering European territory. A recent example is the wife of a senior official who was falsely said to be in Greece when, in fact, she was in Marmaris. In recent months Turkish exports to Russia have doubled. The largest Russian investment in the world is the nuclear power plant in Akkuyu. And of course, Turkey is procuring Russian high-tech weapon systems, such as the S-400s. Do these actions have implications for Turkey? Aside from the dissatisfaction expressed by European officials, both privately and publicly, the evidence speaks for itself. The US has imposed sanctions on the purchase of military equipment. Turkey has been banned from the F-35 program. There is the possibility of new sanctions if Turkey purchases Russian weapons systems. The US Congress opposes the upgrade of the Turkish F-16s, and this is a bipartisan stance, meaning that it is supported by both parties. In stark contrast, Greece has full access to all American systems. The days of 7:10, when Greece would have been satisfied with 70% of what Turkey received, are long gone, and for the better of our country. This is due to Greece’s stance, but also due to the discomfort with the Turkish attitude. In addition, a few days ago the US Deputy Secretary of the Treasury warned Turkish companies that they risk sanctions if they conduct business with sanctioned Russian companies. Such messages are not sent in rather general or vague terms. They are typically a “warning shot”, in this case against an, at least in name, NATO ally.
JOURNALIST: You are travelling to New York tomorrow to attend the UN General Assembly High-Level Week. What are you anticipating?
JOURNALIST: You stated a few days ago that Greece “reserves the right to exercise in other parts of its territory” the right to extend its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles. What are your plans for this?
JOURNALIST: Tayyip Erdogan has been threatening that “we may come suddenly one night” almost every day lately. Does the Greek government view these words as an invasion threat? If so, how does it respond?
JOURNALIST: Turkey does not impose sanctions against Russia and occasionally provides commercial and economic support to Moscow. Are you satisfied with how our partners and allies in the EU and NATO are responding to Ankara’s behavior?
N. DENDIAS: We need to look at our own affairs first before examining what other countries are seeking to do. It is a fact that in my meetings both with my counterparts in the EU and in the Western Balkans in recent months, I have expressed concern regarding the influence of revisionist forces, including Turkey, which, using historical, economic, and religious ties, are attempting to gain influence in the region. During my most recent trip to Serbia, I discussed the significance of a potential risk of destabilization from such actions with my counterpart, Nikola Selaković. Speaking of Serbia, the conversation I had with my Serbian counterpart in Belgrade, two days after the Turkish President’s visit, confirmed the very good level of our bilateral relations.  It is clear, however, that our friend, Serbia must make decisions. A consistent and practical commitment to the Western Balkans’ European path is a one-way street for the region’s peace, stability, and prosperity in the face of the challenges it faces. Most states in the region have made European integration their strategic goal. Let me give you an example: Albania’s Prime Minister, Edi Rama, whom I know well, maintains good relations with the Turkish President. However, this does not prevent him from being one of the most important supporters of his country’s European perspective. A perspective that means that Albania will fully embrace a set of principles and values that is contrary to revisionism. Europe and not the revival of the Ottoman Empire, is where the future of the Balkans lies. And let me reiterate our satisfaction as the first EU intergovernmental conference with Albania and North Macedonia has finally taken place. In conclusion, what we need to figure out is how to move forward, without grumbling, but with a willingness to reinstate Greece’s “leading” role.
JOURNALIST: What impact have your letters to the EU, NATO, and the UN on Turkish provocative conduct had? How is the international community reacting? Will you take additional, similar, or even harsher actions?
N. DENDIAS: The government has made it abundantly clear that it will not leave any challenge unanswered and has decided as of 2020 to launch a campaign of internationalization of Turkish provocations and aggressive actions. It has called on Greece’s partners and allies in the EU, NATO, and the UN to condemn Ankara’s unlawful conduct and take a clear position. The internationalization of Turkish provocations is bearing fruit. In comparison to the past, our partners now provide us with a significant amount of support and are better able to comprehend both our positions and the challenges we face. Two or three years prior, this would not have been the case. But the atmosphere has changed dramatically in European capitals, in Washington D.C, and in other parts of the world where we used to be absent. This is the result of arduous work, hundreds of contacts, and thousands of miles of travel. Aside from verbal statements, we have commitments in writing, and agreements with strategic partners that strengthen us against any threat. As the Latins used to say: “Verba volant, scripta manent”, that is, oral words fly away, but written words last. We will continue to present our positions wherever and whenever we deem it appropriate so as to defend our interests. Allow me to make an observation: In the recent letters I sent, we did not even need to elaborate our arguments. The outrageous remarks made by Turkish officials, which we have simply quoted, serve as direct evidence and do not require any additional explanation.

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