– Nine months have passed since the deadly earthquake in Turkey. During this period, Greek-Turkish relations show signs of improvement. Can this last over time? Have the overflights and violations of our national airspace stopped during this time?
My visit to the earthquake-stricken areas of Turkey, as Minister of Foreign Affairs, together with my counterpart at the time, Mevlut Cavusoglu, allowed for a de-escalation in our bilateral relations since then, which was also seen on the ground. It acted as a “window of opportunity”, which has lasted for a considerable period of time. Of course, not all the problems between us have been magically resolved and the risk of regression to the tension of the past has not disappeared, as long as past grievances are not withdrawn. After all, the dialogue for the resolution of our unique difference, in order to have a substantial result, also requires a specific attitude, which does not undermine it. Let’s also not forget the Cyprus issue, which remains an “open wound”. If Ankara wishes to see a real change of page in our relations, it knows what it must do, deed and reason, guided by International Law and the International Law of the Sea. H Greece is ready to respond in this case. In any case, however, complacency is not allowed, especially in the current fragile geopolitical balances in our wider region.
– Do you have an open channel of communication with your counterpart Yasar Guler? Are you planning to meet in Ankara or Athens?
Mr Guler and I met at the NATO Summit in Vilnius and we met together at the NATO Defense Ministers Summit in Brussels about 20 days ago. We are keeping communication channels open and I hope that soon we will be given the opportunity to hold a bilateral meeting.
In your opinion, how should the international community – and certainly our country – react to the stormy developments in the Middle East? What worries you most about what is happening in Israel and the Gaza Strip?
Mr. Papachliminzo, Greece has clearly condemned the unprecedented terrorist attack by Hamas. After all, this attack weakens the legitimate claims of the Palestinian people. Greece has also declared that it supports Israel’s right to self-defense. At the same time, we have pointed out that the protection of civilians must be a dominant priority. We do not justify retaliation against civilians. Beyond that, the concern is reasonable about the possibility that this crisis will develop into a regional one, as well as about the possibility that it will stop the hopeful process that had begun with the Abraham Accords for the cooperation and peace in the wider region. Of course, there are other possible consequences, for which there should be timely preparation and cooperation at the international level. As for the Security issues that may arise, the safeguarding of energy resources, the possible escalation of immigration, etc.
Publications want our country to be indirectly involved in the war, providing facilities through Souda and Elefsina, but also with the presence of Navy ships in the Eastern Mediterranean. What is your comment?
Our country is neither involved in military operations, nor has it been asked to do so. The permission to use Greek military airfields, beyond the terms of the Defense Agreement with the USA, was given for transport aircraft, as well as for support helicopters and personnel. These funds will be used for humanitarian reasons, i.e. for evacuations and transportation of US citizens or Greeks if required.
As for the Navy ships, they already participated, before the Hamas attack, in three operations in the Mediterranean: EU, NATO and UN respectively. In the latter case, it is about the peacekeeping operation in Lebanon, but for security reasons, the Greek frigate will be moved dozens of miles from the coast of the country. However, our country’s participation in these operations, combined with the defense agreements it has concluded, practically proves its geopolitical role in the region. And I think that our participation should be interpreted from this point of view and not as a factor of concern.
– In terms of equipment, what are the priorities for the near future? When will the decision be made on the three new Navy corvettes and what criteria will weigh more?
The equipment program that has been announced is being implemented, but it clearly has priorities, both due to operational needs and due to budgetary constraints. As I have said before, Greece has a strong Armed Forces thanks to the legacy of the Greek people, which we must use in the best possible way. It would be a dream come true to be able to implement all the programs at the same time, but as you understand, this is not realistic Mr. Papakhliminzo. We should also take into account that in addition to our own wishes and needs, external factors also enter into the implementation of the armament programs, such as, for example, bureaucratic procedures and European Law. As far as the program of the new Corvettes is concerned, it is a matter of evaluation criteria and decisions of the competent General Staffs.
– In recent years, there has been a great debate about the participation of the domestic war industry in the armament programs that the country is running. Can it be strengthened and how? You have also spoken several times about “defense innovation”.
Strengthening our defense industry and promoting innovation are two of our main goals, but also an important challenge to which we must respond as a country. In this direction, we are promoting the creation of an ecosystem which will gradually give our country the opportunity to become a permanent consumer, producer and exporter of weapon systems. Our aim is to strengthen our cooperation in the future with other countries to exchange know-how for the benefit of the domestic defense industry, an issue I discussed during my visits to Israel, the UAE, the United Kingdom and France, in the meetings I had with my counterparts . Our areas of focus include artificial intelligence, cyber security, web-centric business, i.e. all the new evolving defense and security ecosystem. Relevant legislation is in the drafting phase. Already, a new Office (Project Management Office) has been set up and is operating in the Ministry of National Defense, which deals diligently with the field of promoting innovation.
Regarding the current situation in the field of defense industry, there are major equipment programs, such as the program of modernization of 83 F-16s of the Air Force to the VIPER level, which is being implemented precisely on schedule by the ODA. But there are other programs in which huge problems are observed, which we seek to resolve with specific interventions.
– The pre-election program of the New Democracy envisaged, among other things, the quality upgrade of the period of military service. What is the Ministry of National Defense’s plan on this?
First, it will upgrade the way conscripts are trained, which will also be done in a digital environment, while at the same time expanding it to subjects such as Civil Protection and First Aid. Furthermore, it will enable the development of skills linked to the labor market, practical and digital, at the same time of course, to the benefit of pure military training and the Armed Forces. These programs will be certified either by the Lifelong Learning Centers of the Armed Forces or by certified external bodies. They will enable recruits who choose them to acquire an additional asset for their civilian careers.
– Did the results of the self-governing elections ring a “bell” for ND? What do you think needs to change in the run-up to the European elections in May?
As the Prime Minister stated, “the government must receive the political messages at all times and fight with all its strength to improve the daily life of the citizens”. The big political bet is therefore the Kadministration to successfully manage yet another exogenous crisis and prove once again in practice that it is a great popular party, with care for our vulnerable fellow human beings. Also, it must manage the new reality in Greek history, of complete political supremacy.
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