The Minister of National Defence, Evangelos Apostolakis, in an interview with the "KATHIMERINI" newspaper (24-02-19) to the journalist Vasilis Nedos, made the following statements:
Q: You know your Turkish counterpart, Hulusi Akar. Furthermore, you both took off the uniform to become Ministers of Defence. Lately, however, Mr. Akar keeps referring to the "Blue Motherland", expressing aspirations over the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean. Do you think it is possible to find a common place to adopt Confidence Building Measures in order to normalise Greek – Turkish relations?
A: Indeed, the personal communication I have with my Turkish counterpart since the time we were both Chiefs of Defence of our countries helps maintain a channel of communication to resolve any issues pertaining to the Armed Forces. To this end, and based on the relevant political guidelines after Alexis Tsipras' recent meeting with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, we agreed with Hulusi Akar during the NATO Defence Ministers Meeting to establish delegations from the two countries to meet in the near future to define actions within the framework of Confidence Building Measures.
Q: The Confidence Building Measures you are currently discussing are a revival of the Papoulias – Yilmaz memorandum or should we expect additional ones? When do you think an agreement will be reached? Is this discussion enough to normalise the situation in the Aegean?
A: The Papoulias – Yilmaz memorandum created a code of conduct between the Armed Forces of the two countries in order to reduce potential tensions arising from military activities.
The implementation of the memorandum is necessary in order to avoid the creation of constant unnecessary tension, which may lead to a potential accident with uncontrollable consequences. Our intention is to achieve an agreement for the implementation of the Confidence Building Measures soon, within the framework of the prevention of tension between the two parties.
Q: The impending exercise "Mavi Vatan" is a token of Turkish ambitions and aspirations. How do you assess it?
A: First of all, allow me to examine the situation not as shown by the media, but realistically. The exercise you are referring to is a typical training activity of the Turkish Armed Forces. Rest assured that the Hellenic Armed Forces' surveillance system and their readiness allow full monitoring of all relevant activities.
Q: You made a statement that, if Turkey captures a Greek islet, you will flatten it, thus causing a heated debate. Why did you think it was necessary to publicly send such a message?
A: What you are referring to was an off-the-record discussion with journalists when I was Chief of Defence. I think I gave a self-evident answer to a hypothetical question. I am stressing again the readiness and capability of the Hellenic Armed Forces to protect national interests, if necessary.
Q: Your term is de facto limited, since an election will take place in a few months. What are your priorities which can be achieved during this short time period?
A: The time period might seem short, but there is a lot that can be done. The main priority, which does not depend on the Defence Minister's term, is to maintain the combat readiness of the Armed Forces and protect our national integrity and national interests. And that's what we will do. Furthermore, I will continue my effort for a functional, effective, and healthy organisation, whose personnel are professionals. Our main concern remains the personnel. At the same time, our main everyday concerns are the further promotion of jointness and the targeted acquisition of equipment, always with respect to society.
Q: During the past years, Athens has developed particularly close relations with the US, both diplomatically and militarily. Should Greece seek alternative weapon system procurement sources in Europe or develop its domestic defence industry to the fullest, like Israel?
A: Greece has a long-standing strategic defence relationship with the US. Our Armed Forces have an extensive cooperation in many activities in individual, operational, and academic training. This relationship is constantly enhanced and this was confirmed by the strategic dialogue of the two countries. But let's not forget that Greece belongs primarily to the European family, which seeks to gradually build its own defence identity. Within this framework, we are examining all possible and beneficial weapon system procurement options, while at the same time seeking to boost our own domestic defence industry.
Q: Given the situation, should we expect any reinforcement of our arsenal, especially in areas where there is a recognised need for the replacement or modernisation of old units? Are there any particular plans?
A: As I said, with total respect for the State and society, we schedule actions, to the extent possible, to reinforce and modernise the Armed Forces. We do not lower our guard and we always prepare, reinforce, and upgrade, trying to achieve as much as possible with smart solutions and hard negotiations. Considering what has already been done, such as the scheduling of the F-16 aircraft upgrade and the modernisation of the P-3B maritime patrol aircraft, scheduling the acquisition of additional Frigates for the Navy, the upgrade of Mirage aircraft, and the modernisation of air defence are the only way forward.
Q: A few days ago, you referred to the need for defence cooperation with "North Macedonia". Greece, as an older NATO member, also had other opportunities in the past to have a say in the Balkans. Is there something different this time?
A: The implementation of the Prespes Agreement and the entry of North Macedonia into NATO create the conditions for enhanced and broader cooperation with our neighbouring country in the area of defence, establishing reciprocal relations and achieving multiple benefits beyond the area of defence. In fact, our potential contribution to the transformation of the Armed Forces of North Macedonia will drive away other regional players who may try to benefit from and exercise influence over the neighbouring country. Our goal is for our country to become the main strategic defence partner of North Macedonia in order to maintain peace and enhance cooperation in the Balkans.
Q: You also had other contacts abroad (beyond the Defence Ministers of Turkey and North Macedonia). At international level, what is the position of the Armed Forces and how can it be used as a diplomatic tool in a changing world? And, of course, we always talk about the Aegean, but we often forget that the Eastern Mediterranean is a vital area for national interests. How can Greece enhance its presence there and, in particular, play the new role it seems to have undertaken during the past few years?
A: Under the Prime Minister's guidelines, the Hellenic Armed Forces play an important regional role. It goes without saying that we have a brotherly relationship with Cyprus.
And we never forget the Eastern Mediterranean.
We have undertaken a key role in the promotion of defence synergies and security initiatives, acting as a communication channel between countries such as Cyprus, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates. Modern challenges and the new geopolitical situation in the Eastern Mediterranean region require the enhancement of defence cooperation with the countries in the region. The Greece-Cyprus-Egypt and Greece-Cyprus-Israel trilateral meetings prove this point in the most convincing way. And rest assured that they yield great rewards.
We have also played a leading role in the establishment of defence cooperation with Bulgaria, Romania, and Serbia. At the same time, we honour our commitments to NATO, the EU, and the UN, actively participating in international initiatives that promote peace and security.
During the past few years, we have developed multiple activities and joint training opportunities with the Armed Forces of many countries and we have been very active in the shaping of new power balances and alliances. Our allies and partners acknowledge our value and seek military cooperation with us.
Q: Given the above, how can Greece respond to modern security challenges? Can it keep up with the technological advancements and the new situations they create? Do we expect any developments in this area?
A: In the modern international environment, the changes in the international distribution of power, the strategic competitions, and the rapid developments in the geopolitical environment lead us to believe that the feeling of security has rather deteriorated. In this complex and unstable strategic environment, Greece promotes cooperation and security among the countries in the region, based on international law and mutual trust, and constitutes a pillar of peace and stability.
The Armed Forces, within the framework of their institutional role, greatly contribute to the security and stability in our broader neighbourhood. We operate jointly and our strategy consists in our reliable deterrent capability.
Keeping up with technological advancements is an imperative need and priority for us. And not just that. With the extroversion that characterises us, we try, within our abilities, to exploit new technologies and modernise our equipment and methods. The operational exploitation of technological innovation is very important for us, because it constitutes the strategic advantage that gives us strategic supremacy. A characteristic example is the recent launch of the telecommunications satellite Hellas Sat 4, which allows Greece to have a solid position in the international space map, providing high level services. It will provide self-sufficiency and fully reliable satellite communications for the Hellenic Armed Forces, greatly upgrading out capabilities in that area.
Q: You often refer to the quality of the Armed Forces personnel. There are still requests, and not just of financial nature. What can be done to improve the difficult conditions faced by the Armed Forces personnel?
A: Our personnel play a dominant role in the operation of the Armed Forces. As I always say, they are our most important force multiplier. It is they who give life to the lifeless ships and systems. Meritocracy, training, justice, and personnel welfare require constant actions, which we undertake, to the extent possible. Within this framework, rest assured that actions are undertaken and implemented to meet urgent needs of the personnel with regard to career development, housing, medical care, childcare, training, professional skill certification, etc. Soon, we will introduce a bill with various, hopefully, beneficial provisions. We are doing a lot and we will continue to do so.