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Hellenic Republic Ministry of National Defence

Interview of the Minister of National Defence Evangelos Apostolakis to the REALNEWS Newspaper

Question:  Two of the statements you have made in recent months, have stirred a rustle. The first was about Greece’s forceful reaction to any effort of violation of the Greek territory. In the second you claimed that it is harder to avoid the war than actually fight it. Greece has demonstrated that it has huge reserves of patience against Turkish aggressiveness and people are wondering if we have drawn lines which should not be crossed and which we are determined to preserve.

Answer: As I have already said, my first statement was the self-evident answer to a hypothetical question. My second statement underlines our volition to preserve peace and stability, but it is also a demonstration of a responsible and decisive stance against challenges, as well as regarding the management of our national issues. I wish to be clear and unequivocal. We are unwaveringly focused on the defence of our national positions as they are determined by the international law and the international treaties. These positions explicitly delineate our ownred lines”. I wish to once more stress that the Hellenic Armed Forces have the readiness and proficiency to defend our national interests, when and if it is required. You should have no doubt on the subject.

Question: You had stated that in case of conflict we will fight alone. Are we ready for such a scenario?

Answer: We follow a multidimensional defence policy which is comprised of the safeguarding of our national integrity and the defence of our national interests on one hand and the development of international defence diplomacy activities and participation in operational and training activities within NATO, EU and UN on the other. This policy aims to deter any malicious plans against our country while at the same time it contributes to the enhancement of stability in the wider region of national interest. We are for the states’ peaceful coexistence and the resolution of any differences between them, according to the provisions of the UN Charter. Nevertheless, we are not stargazing and we are down-to-earth. The unhindered materialisation and the brilliant results throughout the spectrum of our operational and training activities regarding our Armed Forces, assure us that we are capable of defending our national rights on our own.

Question: I would say that Greece’s cooperation with the countries of the region is unprecedented. In the Mediterranean as well as the Balkans. Can we count on these cooperations from a military point of view?

Answer: Greece persists on a policy of principles and positions based on the regional and wider cooperation, ultimately aiming to enhance security and stability in the region of national interest. In this context we have made numerous high-quality moves, for some time now, which promote defence diplomacy by advancing cooperations and initiatives which shape bilateral and multilateral defence configurations with countries of the Balkans, North Africa and the Middle East. I am very satisfied with the results. We have exceptional relations and extended defence cooperation with nearly all the states in our region. Special mention should be made of the tripartite cooperations between Greece, Cyprus and Israel and Greece, Cyprus and Egypt, as well as the quadruple cooperation between Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia. As I have already mentioned, all of the above have a deterrent quality and contribute to security and stability.

Question: You were criticised over your positive view regarding the Prespes Agreement. You are the first Minister of National Defence to visit Skopje to sign a defence cooperation with that state. Do you believe that Greece must and can play a primary role in the Balkans, on a military level? Is North Macedonia willing to cooperate with Greece?

Answer: It is my conviction that the expansion of the bilateral defence cooperation and the integration of North Macedonia to NATO, will contribute to the consolidation of relations of mutuality and to the enhancement of a sense of stability in the wider region of the Balkan Peninsula, which is historically known for its instability. The recent institutionalisation of the bilateral defence cooperation with North Macedonia, with the signing of the pertinent agreement, serves Greece’s strategic interests in the region. Our intention is to contribute to the systematic transformation of the neighbouring country’s Armed Forces, so that they will meet the prerequisites and requirements of the Alliance, pertaining to interoperability and standardisation. As stipulated in the pertinent agreement of bilateral defence cooperation which I signed with my counterpart in Skopje on 2 April, we are ready to cooperate in the fields of training, exercises, cyber-defence, academic education and air policing, in order to upgrade the bilateral defence cooperation and also proceed with the integration of North Macedonia to the structures of NATO. Our aim is to make our country the main strategic defence partner of North Macedonia. Of course North Macedonia is willing to cooperate with us, something which was once more stressed by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence of the said country on 2 April, while I firmly believe that Greece already plays a primary role in the Balkans in the context of defence, always on the basis of cooperation and peaceful coexistence with other states.

Question: The financial crisis has left its mark on the Hellenic Armed Forces. There are problems, gaps, shortages regarding our weapon systems. Are you willing to proceed to some “fast track” solutions or will the current pre-election period cause a delay in all other developments?

Answer: The financial limitations of recent years are a given. Nevertheless, a coordinated and organised effort was made and it still goes on, to use all available assets in order to avoid a decrease of our battle-worthiness. And we have been successful in that effort.

The effective supervision of our territory as well as the comprehensive materialisation of the programmes of individual and operational training of the three services of the Armed Forces, in combination with their constant presence in numerous operational and training activities at an international level, constitute the empirical indicators of their sufficiency and efficiency.

Apart from the above, with respect to the state and society in general, we provide for the enhancement and modernisation of the Armed Forces. In this context we have commenced the acceptance of US helicopters (Chinook-Kiowa), we are in the process of beginning the upgrade of the F-16 aircrafts, the modernisation of the P-3B aircrafts of the naval cooperation is materialised, while necessary actions are taken for the modernisation of MEKO Frigates, the fleet’s enhancement with Frigates, the upgrade of Mirage aircrafts and the modernisation of air defence.

All these actions are integrated in the effort we make to enhance and revive our domestic defence and shipbuilding industry, with apparent benefits for the national economy. As you probably know, in each of our activities we promote the participation of our domestic defence industry and we make every possible effort to contribute to the progress of the companies, the Shipyards, the Hellenic Aerospace Industry, the Hellenic Defence Systems and the Hellenic Vehicles Industry.

Question: You have spoken about the need for consent in the field of national defence. Do you perceive that such is the case while in office as the Minister of National Defence or do you have to deal with the usual party oppositions which can only harm the field of national defence?

Answer: During my speech when I took the office of the Minister of National Defence, I stressed that the Prime Minister’s invitation to assume the Ministry’s political responsibility, contained a message of unity and readiness in the sensitive sector of national defence but also of continuation and stability in our country’s defence strategy. I fully comprehend the political processes and different views, in the context of the free dialogue of a democratic state based on the rule of law. However, at the same time I believe that the field of national defence is not ripe for barren party oppositions. That is why I have met with the representatives of parliamentary parties and briefed them on issues of jurisdiction of the Ministry of National Defence. I firmly believe that common understanding and consent in the critical field of national defence, contributes to the finding of common ground, in the political field, for the resolution of essential Armed Forces issues.

Question: Do you intend to take any measures to support the Armed Forces personnel, not just in financial terms. For example, the better staffing of units and the enforcement of meritocracy on the procedures of promotions and transfers are measures which can alleviate the personnel’s burden.

Answer: I will never tire of stressing that the Armed Forces personnel constitutes our main force multiplier. The morale, the quality, the professional expertise and its merit leave no margin for doubt. The Ministry is constantly looking for ways to support, with the basic aim of resolving everyday problems. In this context, as we have already detailed, a new bill of the Ministry is about to be submitted for consideration to the Parliament, which will resolve numerous issues concerning the members and the organisation of the Armed Forces. However, this is not the end. Among other things, we constantly strive to increase and rejuvenate our personnel. Furthermore, the directives and control for the daily exercise of command in the context of transparency and meritocracy are also constant.