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Hellenic Republic Ministry of National Defence

Interview of the Alternate Minister of National Defence Panos Rigas to the sofokleousin.gr Webpage

The Alternate Minister of National Defence Panos Rigas, in an interview he gave to the sofokleousin.gr webpage and the journalist Christos Kardabikis, mentions the following:

  • Mr Rigas, with the ministry’s bill, various lingering issues pertaining to military service, favourable regulations for families with three or more children, draft-evaders and conscientious objectors are finally resolved. Why did these matters remain unresolved all this time? Does the ministry plan anything for the military service?

The regulations of this new law aim to cover the established needs of the Armed Forces personnel and they are the product of constant work conducted at the ministry. They represent our political volition and the way we deal with the Armed Forces personnel which gives us a comparative advantage, so that we can safely proceed to our works in times of peace. There are certain regulations which, at the core of their rationale, adopt the doctrine of non punishing motivation, but of the citizens’ facilitation so that they can cope with their obligations. Such are the regulations for decreased military service for all conscripts coming from families with three or more children, for draft-evaders and conscientious objectors.

  • Regarding armaments, discussions are taking place with the French about the frigates and the upgrade of Mirage 2000, the upgrade of F-16 to F-16V is moving regularly, the Kiowa are coming from the USA, while after the green light given by the Pentagon the way is open for the acquisition of F-35. What are the priorities for the Armed Forces armaments after the end of the memoranda period in our country?

Our priority is to enhance our deterrent force by increasing the operational availability of existing assets and weapon systems. Maintenance as a first step and the upgrade of the Armed Forces assets further on constituted our main concern, since defence expenditures suffered 50% cuts in comparison to the pre-memoranda period. In the context of this tactic we secured the coverage of our needs, to the maximum, and at the same time we set in motion the upgrade of various weapon systems, greatly extending their operational life cycle. This is not the end, since our needs as much as technology are in constant evolution. The end of the memoranda period shapes new conditions. However, the options for the acquisition of new armaments will be examined along with other factors.

  • Can our country’s defence industry be upgraded and bring in resources through exports too? 

The whole of the domestic defence industry is capable of great things. We weathered the great storm of recession and sustained the defence industries which are state-controlled, but also the shipyards, thus saving work positions. We can now take the next step covering, first of all, the needs of the Armed Forces, having in our disposal the new tool of the National Defence Industrial Strategy. We believe that the domestic defence industry, operating on the basis of collaboration and complementariness, can achieve an essential regrouping, contributing to the general financial development of the country. The private sector of the defence industry, in particular, in the context of the momentum of the market within which it operates, has taken decisive steps of adjustment to the new conditions and has upgraded its production capabilities.

  • Turkey is raising tensions in the Aegean and, from time to time, proceeds to dangerous escalations by increasing violations. How possible is an accident or a hot incident, taking into consideration that the persecutions of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Turkish Armed Forces have decreased the number of experienced members, especially in the air force?

First of all, the increase or decrease of tensions in the Aegean is a permanent situation. However, that doesn’t mean that we deal with the problem as a routine. Violations are each time dealt with the appropriate way for the protection of our sovereign rights. Regarding the danger of an accident which you called to attention, it is always existent and our aim is to minimise the possibilities of such an occurrence. However, I should stress that an accident does not lead to a hot incident on its own, if such a choice does not exist. We strive, apart from avoiding an accident, for the exclusion of the possibility of a hot incident as a way to resolve problems. The issues concerning the internal situation of the Turkish Armed Forces interest us but do not define our policy.

  • Do you believe that in the context of the talks of the Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras with the Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, there will be developments regarding Confidence Building Measures?

Communication between the two countries’ leaderships, bearing in mind the existing problems, is not only necessary but also obligatory. This is my answer to the objections raised by part of the opposition claiming, more or less, that bilateral summits will be conducted only when there are no problems. On the contrary, when there are problems and danger for further escalation, that is the time for communication. The same is true for Confidence Building Measures. This means that when you have problems you try to set some rules which will contribute to confidence building, so that dangerous situations will be avoided and the preconditions for a future resolution will be shaped. Confidence Building Measures, on their own, do not constitute a solution but they can be the foundation for a resolution. They definitely achieve a positive result regarding the relations of the two countries.

  • Does Turkey’s insistence on the S-400 and the disagreement with the USA and other NATO countries affect our country?

In our time and furthermore in this region there is interaction between the states. Turkey can make its own choices and it is certain that these choices interest us and we take them under serious consideration. Any new weapon system, like the S-400, establishes new data which impose the relevant adjustment. In any case the Hellenic Armed Forces have the means and will to adjust the country’s defence against any possible change.

  • Does Greece, in the context of the trilateral cooperation (with the participation of Cyprus) with Israel and Egypt, upgrade its role in the wider region?

The upgrade of our country’s role in the wider region is the product of the utilisation of our comparative advantages, like Greece’s geographical position, its political stability, our multidimensional foreign policy and our economy’s stabilisation. All the elements composing what we call “a pillar of stability in the region”. Our government upgraded the country’s geopolitical capabilities, giving added value. We are reaping the fruits of our labours, gaining recognition and an upgraded role for the country, a fact evidenced by alliances which enhance the country’s security and role.

  • The Armed Forces play an essential role in society through actions like air MEDEVACs from remote areas and the interventions of the Studies and Constructions Unit after natural disasters. Do you think that this role of the Armed Forces will be expanded?

 The Armed Forces, in parallel to their main mission which is the defence of the country, also make a great contribution in the field of society. They constitute a structure with a very high level of organisation, they have the assets necessary to intervene under any circumstances and they have forces available throughout the Greek territory, even to the remotest of areas. They can intervene in emergencies or whenever the state mechanism is unable to cope.

  • Let us move on to the political field. Do you think that the progressive alliance united in a wider front, before the European Parliament Elections and the local self-government elections in May is moving forward?

The Progressive Alliance is the answer to a necessity which only the left-progressive wing can give. It is a necessity for a politics’ rebirth and citizens’ activation. To once more make politics society’s affair and not just the affair of the political elites, the citizens themselves will have to regain their confidence and understand that politics can serve the needs of the many. In that sense, the Progressive Alliance constitutes a strategic choice and not tactics in view of elections. It is a choice looking forward to the governing of the country with an active and participant society, in all social affairs. Not everything is about economy, neither were Democracy and rights conquered to serve those who control economy, as falsely believed by neo-liberalism, displacing citizens from politics.

  • Do you believe that SYRIZA can turn the tide in the advent of the national elections?

The true momentum of the parties will have to come to the surface and not the false one cultivated with various types of gallops, fixed-up sceneries, montages and individuals being guided by parties to make particular statements. The people are aware of the situation and standing before the ballot-box they will have to face a particular dilemma: we move on to achieve further recovery and fair development or we go back and we surrender the country to those who led it to destruction.