ANTONIS SROITER: We will now talk with the Minister of National Defence Mr Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos. Minister, good evening! Let us begin with the latest developments: One more challenge at the Aegean. A proof that this game with the immigrants, often played on the backs of human lives, still goes on…
NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: It is true. We were not under the illusion, at the Ministry of National Defence, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Migration Policy, the Ministry of Shipping or the Government that Turkey would change its familiar challenging stance.
We had simply made our own plans. We avoided, or I should say, we appropriately managed their effort to surprise us in Evros. So, this effort was finally unsuccessful. Depending on developments we are shaping our deterrent stance on the islands, where our estimation is that with a break in the weather, the influx of immigrants in our waters and then our land territory will intensify. Nothing has changed. We are still on guard.
ANTONIS SROITER: Minister, do you believe that when the pandemic is over and things cool down that then the problem, meaning Turkey’s plan regarding the immigrants in Evros, will resurface? Will they bring them back in Evros?
NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: We are certainly conducting such estimations. Turkey faces its own problem, which is apparently quite severe due to the pandemic. Every country in the world is trying to manage the crisis.
We fared better. We are heading to a gradual loosening of measures and we’ll see what the results will be, but in any case our reaction and planning against Turkey’s remains steadfast. The Armed Forces never change.
ANTONIS SROITER: Minister, what is your information regarding the condition in the Turkish Army regarding the coronavirus consequences? I am asking because of the great and long-awaited Turkish military exercise which has yet to commence and it is likely that it will never be conducted.
NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: We believe that the coronavirus has affected the operation of the Turkish Armed Forces too. Besides, no country’s Armed Forces have remained unaffected by the pandemic. Consider that aircraft carriers belonging to countries much more powerful than us, have expeditiously docked, in order to manage the occurring coronavirus cases. Everyone is affected and proportionately so does Turkey.
So, we have a relative decrease in activity in all fronts. We still have overflights, over the Greek islands and violations of our airspace but with smaller frequency, which is something that I have to admit. This means that there is an impact. However, they do not completely stop!
We will always be present to identify, intercept and deter. It is true that in the last few days we were informed that Turkey is considering the cancelation of the great aero-naval exercise “Μavi Vatan”, scheduled for this period. Obviously due to the impact of the coronavirus to the Armed Forces.
ANTONIS SROITER: When you say you were informed, you mean that it was officially communicated to you by the Turkish side or is it just information which has reached the Greek side?
NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: Not just information! I had the opportunity to talk with the Turkish Minister of Defence, my counterpart Mr Akar, in the context of the NATO meeting. Besides, this information leaked. It is common practice to have these informal talks when the Ministers of NATO or EU member-states meet, a practice not adopted by Turkey.
He expressed to me his intention. I expressed our own wish to see a decrease in the activity at the Aegean, referring to overflights and also to violating practices as the ones we mentioned above. We are not simply referring to the conduct or no conduct of an exercise, but to overflights, as well as violations.
That is our wish, so as to ease the tension permanently and not just occasionally, due to an adverse circumstance like the coronavirus. These comments were recorded and from then on, our neighbours did actually not proceed to the conduct of this exercise.
ANTONIS SROITER: So, he actually briefed you about the cancelation of the exercise, as an act of good will. However, overflights and all other pertinent actions still go on…
NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: Exactly! In general, we would like to see a decrease of this excessive activity throughout the various levels and pertaining to the movements, the flights of Turkey’s fighter aircrafts, the exercises and everything else. That is desirable.
From then on however, since the situation is such, we are also calculating our stance and we are reacting accordingly.