Greece is in trouble again for a variety of reasons, and the United States should care. Most importantly, in the foreign policy field, Hellas and Turkey have been at loggerheads forever. They are historic enemies. Yet, they are also members of NATO.
During the Cold War, Ankara and Athens each held its nose and cooperated against the common Soviet threat. This is not the case anymore so much. There are mutual long-standing grievances and no Communist menace to moderate them.
Like Norway in the north, Greece completes the Intermarium, or the Three Seas area, in the south. Its Ionian Sea meshes with the Adriatic and the Agean Sea flows through the Sea of Marmara into the Black Sea. Greece is an important southeastern European plank of NATO defenses, providing backup to Bulgaria, its northeastern neighbor.
The Hellenic Republic is also supposed to complement Turkey in our defensive scheme in the region but, increasingly, that idea looks solid mainly on paper. First of all, Hellas remains an economic mess despite massive bailouts from the EU in general, and Germany in particular. Socialism and socialists rule.
Whether it is the left or the right in power, both are firm believers in welfare state and statism. It is just a matter of intensity of their commitment to this economy and society-crippling system. The left is, of course, more profligate.
To be quite frank, Hellas is one of the EU's PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain): the Old Continent economic basket cases. Consequently, economic enfeeblement leaves Athens dependent on Brussels and Berlin; and it limits severely the Hellenic foreign policy and defense initiatives.
Second, the Hellenic Republic reels because of the migrant crisis. EU and other foreign subsidies only cover so much of the economic costs of maintaining real and alleged war refugees. Social and cultural costs may be even more serious.
The surge in violent crime, general disorder, and local chaos wrought by bad seeds among usually young, unemployed, and confined migrants has put serious strain on the local people. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the presence of the unwanted guests put a serious strain on tourism.
Now, a simmering conflict boils over from time to time. For example, someone burned down a major refugee camp on Lesbos about a week ago. Initially, some blamed the locals. Now, the police have arrested a score of suspects from among the inmates. The charitable explanation is that the refugees were bored or dissatisfied. The politically correct shill is that they wanted to publicize their plight for the benefit of public opinion.
Third, the influx of illegal aliens from the Middle East, Central Asia, and, to a much lesser extent, North Africa is largely complements of Turkey. Ankara periodically releases waves of Third World aliens to put pressure on the EU and wring concessions from Brussels.
When the Europeans pay up and kowtow, the Turks close their border and rein in the refugees. While playing this game, the Turks delight that they can stick it to the Greeks, who bear the brunt of their neighbors malicious shenanigans.
Fourth, the Hellenic Republic champions the Republic of Cyprus, a majority Greek island nation in southeastern Mediterranean with Nicosia as its capital. However, a bit over 35% of the nation's area falls under the de facto control of a self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
Unrecognized virtually by anyone but Turkey, the entity is a major source of tension in the region. Invoking its ties to the Turkish zone of Cyprus, Ankara has laid claim to mineral resources of the island and its territorial waters, most notably gas and oil.
Tensions have flared up this past summer because the Turks dispatched exploration vessels and backed them up with naval units. The Cypriots objected and the Greeks seconded. In fact, in its capacity as an EU member, Cyprus, invoking the lack of response from Brussels against Turkey's continued illegal occupation of EU territory in general, and its latest illicit mineral exploration offensive in particular, blocked the European sanctions against Belarus for Minsk's violent suppression of the pro-democracy movement there.
This was an effective move but it's motives went beyond Nicosia's enmity toward Ankara. Cyprus is a favorite destination of Russian tourists, including the oligarchs, and an infamous money-laundering haven. Further, Russia works behind the scenes influencing the island's politics. Thus, whereas it is true that the EU is impotent to restore the island's sovereignty vis-à-vis Turkey, Moscow's hand weighs heavy, if unseen, on all major developments. Greece knows this and approves. And so does Turkey.
This way, the Greek NATO and EU membership notwithstanding, President Vladimir Putin tends to be the real power broker in the area. France's feeble move to dispatch its navy to swagger against Turkey off of Cyprus resulted in nothing much, underscoring the growing importance of Russia in the region.
Some call for the expulsion of Turkey from NATO. The alliance protects Ankara in case its relations with Moscow or Teheran go sour. It is a shield from behind which its President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan can pursue his neo-Ottoman foreign policy of restoring the Caliphate not only in the Middle East, where he preaches Sunni solidarity under his helm, but also in Central Asia, where he invokes the gospel of pan-Turkism under his umbrella.
And what does the U.S. get in return? What are our strategic goals there? How does Greece fit in? We need serious answers soon.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is Professor of History at the Institute of World Politics, a graduate school of statecraft in Washington D.C.; expert on East-Central Europe's Three Seas region; author, among others, of "Intermarium: The Land Between The Baltic and Black Seas." Read Marek Jan Chodakiewicz's Reports — More Here.
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