The Minister of National Defence Mr. Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos and the Minister of Defence of the Republic of Cyprus Mr. Savvas Angelides chaired the works of the 6th Intergovernmental Defence Council of Greece and Cyprus, which convened at the Ministry of National Defence. The aim of the council is to expand and promote matters regarding defence cooperation among the two countries.
Issues concerning further enhancement of interoperability and operational cooperation of the Greek and Cypriot Armed Forces, and bilateral military cooperation were thoroughly discussed. Moreover, special reference was made to the trilateral defence cooperation of Greece-Cyprus with Israel and Egypt. The two ministers referred to the added value of this multidimensional trilateral format of cooperation and its contribution to the shaping of security and stability conditions in the East Mediterranean.
It was commonly ascertained that the Intergovernmental Defence Council, combined with the aforementioned trilateral cooperation formats have acquired unique dynamics and effectively contribute to the enhancement of security and stability in the broader region.
The two Ministers also referred to EU Defence Initiatives, where the two countries closely cooperate. Views were exchanged regarding the coordination of the positions relating to the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) and the European Defence Fund (EDF), which is under construction.
After the conclusion of the Intergovernmental Council, Mr. Panagiotopoulos and Mr. Angelides made the following statements to the journalists:
NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: Today, the works of the 6th Intergovernmental Council between Greece and Cyprus were concluded; these works take place at a critical period for the East Mediterranean and the broader region.
In this context, I had the pleasure of welcoming at the Ministry my Cypriot counterpart, Mr. Savvas Angelides, with whom we commonly confirmed that through our meetings, coordination and synergy between the Greek and Cypriot Armed Forces constantly improve, whilst the accomplishment of decisive issues regarding our defence cooperation is completed faster, overcoming possible bureaucratic delays.
In the framework of today’s Intergovernmental Council, we discussed the possibilities for improvement of our Armed Forces’ interoperability and operational cooperation, as well as the further enhancement of our cooperation in the defence field for a series of issues, at bilateral -but also at EU- level.
In addition, we analysed the security status, as it is being shaped in the East Mediterranean by Turkey’s destabilizing and unlawful activities in the Cypriot EEZ and in the wider area as well, and we discussed actions and initiatives so as to tackle them, in cooperation with other friend countries and International Organisations.
We also talked about EU Defence Initiatives, where Greece and Cyprus closely cooperate, and today we exchanged views on the coordination of our positions in matters concerning the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) and the European Defence Fund (EDF).
We particularly underline the trilateral defence cooperation of Greece-Cyprus with Israel and Egypt, through mutual exercises and co-training, as well as the added value of this multidimensional trilateral format of cooperation and its contribution to the shaping of security and stability conditions in the East Mediterranean.
It was commonly ascertained that the Intergovernmental Defence Council, combined with the aforementioned trilateral cooperation formats, have acquired unique dynamics and effectively contribute to the enhancement of security and stability in the broader region of mutual interest.
I am absolutely certain that today’s meeting with my friend, Defence Minister Mr. Angelides, contributes to the successful course of the bilateral defence cooperation, which is the basis for the enhancement of the brotherly and strategic relation between Greece and Cyprus, as well as the development of broader regional cooperation, aiming at ensuring peace and prosperity.
LEONIDAS BLAVERIS: According to your assessment, will this status you described along with the Cypriot Defence Minister get better or worse?
NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: At the level of defence, we are constantly progressing. We intensify our cooperation, we examine all its aspects and we coordinate, especially as far as the common positions and initiatives at EU level are concerned. PESCO is a great opportunity for specific benefits, concerning the two countries’ defence cooperation, to be introduced or emerge.
Our assessments are of no surprise; both parties need to be alert and vigilant at all levels, and this is the reason why we are here, so as to cooperate closely, in the most beneficial ways, sharing a common view: having a secure and stable East Mediterranean region, despite the destabilizing forces and provocative behaviours which emanate from only one permanently destabilising source.
Facing this permanent source of destabilisation and destabilising behaviours, we coordinate our reaction regarding our preparation within our countries, our common course towards defence cooperation, as well as the activation of all alliances, at all levels. I see that this has already produced results. Other than that, the problems are known, the challenges, or even threats, are known; we just need to further intensify our effort.
KOSTAS SARIKAS: Mister Minister, my question is for both you and Mr. Angelides. Some hours ago, Mr. Erdogan said “don’t concern yourselves with Turkey, and nothing will happen”. How would you comment on that?
THANASSIS ARGYRAKIS: In the same context, since they are soon going to enter the EEZ with research and extraction vessels, please share with us the exact measures that the Cypriot and the Greek side are going to take in this case. They will enter the Cypriot EEZ…
NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: We cannot be very specific, as this will touch issues of operational planning. If our goal is to provide good services to this operational planning, we should share as less as possible; if this is our goal.
KOSTAS SARIKAS: Are we concerning ourselves with Turkey?, Mr. Minister, so that Erdogan may say “don’t concern yourselves with us”?
NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: We are responding to an environment of security challenges and threats. Naturally, we need to develop our planning against these security threats, either existing or not. This is the meaning of our existence and mission; to closely cooperate with the Military Leadership of the Armed Forces of course but, in any case, to congruously cooperate and exchange information, views, assessments and analyses. Our relation is given, it is very close, it is brotherly, and we mutually develop our reaction to the existent security environment. All the threats emerge from this, nothing more, nothing less.
SAVVAS ANGELIDES: I couldn’t agree more with what was said. To the question whether we are concerning ourselves with Turkey or not, it is given that the answer will be that our concern is to promote stability in the area of the Eastern Mediterranean. This is our preoccupation, this is our goal, these are our actions and we have proved it. I would like to say something here; trust me when I say that many results of all our cooperation have not yet become known. Many results coming to light regard deterrence. Cyprus and Greece have achieved a great deal in bilateral relations, at military level, at military cooperation, but we have also achieved a lot for the region’s security; you can be sure of that. I would like to highlight the importance of trilateral cooperation, which is constantly upgraded and has produced numerous results. Let’s make use of them, so as to further progress a step to ultimately achieving our goal for security in our region and prosperity for our people.
IOANNA ELIADES: As you referred to security and having achieved a lot: I remember that last year you had appealed to European countries to assist, to bring naval forces to Cyprus. Yesterday, the French Ambassador stated that a frigate will patrol the East Mediterranean, to Greece and Cyprus’ assistance. Is there some kind of understanding? Will it dock in Cyprus? Have other countries assisted in some similar way?
SAVVAS ANGELIDES: The answer is quite simple. There is a fine line between following and promoting a policy, and communicating it to you and to the entire world on one hand, and sharing too much detail, thus touching the operational level, on the other. I have repeatedly said that yes, we ask and we have to ask for the assistance, among others, of European countries, in the context of solidarity and the values that govern cooperation at European level.
If you are asking me whether I am content or not, this is not the issue, we shall carry on asking for more. As far as the presence of the French Navy is concerned, it has been clarified at many levels by President Macron, by the French Defence Minister, and in common statements as well, that the militarization of the situation in East Mediterranean, in the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Republic of Cyprus, is not the answer; this would only help Turkey reach its goal. Its presence is for the stabilization of the situation, and the communication of the proper message on free exercise of our country’s, as well as of countries sharing such values, sovereign rights.
NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: Please, allow me a comment; we ought to underline the increased French presence at the East Mediterranean sea for some time now. After my visit in Paris, a submarine and a frigate were sent at Block 7 within Cyprus’ EEZ. Yesterday, I had the chance to board the French helicopter carrier which entered the port of Piraeus, while the aircraft carrier “Charles de Gaulle” is on its way, along with an escort flotilla which always accompanies an aircraft carrier operating at open sea.
Therefore, an increased French naval presence is being recorded for some time now, and this is the product of diplomatic initiatives and intensified contacts of both the Greek and the Cypriot side, at various levels, with all Allies, including the French of course. I believe that this is the solid proof that such diplomatic initiatives and their intensification start bearing fruit. I will totally agree with the Minister that the increased French presence here aims at ensuring peace and stability in the area, and in no way at any destabilizing cause. Let’s end it here.
CHRISTOS MAZANITIS: Mister Minister, you have taken many steps at diplomatic level, with which you have managed to diplomatically encircle Turkey from several points. As far as the latest developments in Block 8 are concerned, do you believe that you are on the right course, do you believe that you will finally block Turkey’s aspirations? Regarding the “Yavuz”, are you informed on what has been written by part of the Turkish press, that it has proceeded -or plans on proceeding- to drillings in the area?
SAVVAS ANGELIDES: The results we can all see certainly do not satisfy completely, as we still observe violation and escalation of the violations. On the other hand, imagine what would happen if we hadn’t proceeded to all those actions. Therefore, we have faith in the policy we have already exercised and in the actions we have decided upon. I underline that they are actions on political-diplomatic level, as well as legal measures, and we hope that there will come a time when we will reach our final goal, which is to eliminate illegal actions, with everything that may imply, which is basically the safeguarding of the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus. As far as the details are concerned, on whether the drilling has begun or not, I do not think they are very important, since the very presence of the “Yavuz” in our EEZ is a serious violation of the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus.
THANASSIS ARGYRAKIS: Since you were in the United States accompanying the Prime Minister, would you make a political comment on the information which have seen the light today, that Trump called Erdogan and said that “Greece and Turkey need to resolve their disagreements in the East Mediterranean”?
NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: I had ventured a guess, a month ago, that initiatives would be taken; as a matter of fact, some analysts had commented back then “what do we expect? That President Trump will call President Erdogan?”, and in the end this is exactly what happened. I said that similar initiatives do not need to be taken at high level, there are many diplomatic channels to be used between two countries, and they were activated; this was proven in practice. The US side appeared to be convinced by the Greek side’s arguments, as they were mostly presented by the Prime Minister, but also from all the other members of the Greek delegation, in their talks with their counterparts, that the tension needed to be defused.
Certain actions are taken towards this end. Therefore, we are content by the fact that President Trump himself called President Erdogan and encouraged him to take proper action so as to reduce the tension. We are waiting to see if this will end up in a change of Turkey’s behaviour. In any case, what we need to establish is that the Greek side’s arguments are being listened to, at all levels, by all the key actors of the international stage. Afterwards, we are not going to end our efforts, we will keep on communicating our arguments and our national rights.
This effort does not stop, it only gets more intensified. You see, January and February are months of feverish diplomatic activity, at all levels. Tomorrow, the Prime Minister will go to Paris, where he will meet and discuss with President Macron. We are planning to meet again with the Cypriot Minister of Defence and the other members of the trilateral cooperation formats in the near future, and -naturally- with Israel, Egypt, and France of course.
By the end of February, the French Minister of Defence will make an official visit and this may be a good time for a trilateral or quadrilateral meeting; we will see. We are now at the planning phase of this multileveled meeting. In any case, the diplomatic initiatives are intensified, since military scenarios are good and I can understand they have a dramatic effect to the public opinion, yet before that we must put first the diplomatic initiatives and the diplomatic level of dispute resolving. Much has been done at this level, which has been proven effective, and this will carry on.
GIORGOS SIDERIS: I would like to ask if Mr. Erdogan’s answer to President Trump is the overflights just made above two Greek inhabited islands of the Aegean Sea.
NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: Were they only two? This is our daily routine, and I would like to add something else here, since I am given the opportunity. This is a routine we can deal with. I can understand the dramatic undertones it has when the data of the overflights, the violations, the infringements etc. are presented to the public opinion. However, there is a complete and organized reaction by our side to each violation. This is why I referred to 4,500 and more interceptions to 4,500 violations. In addition, I have said in the past that there is an aspect of distorted interpretation of the data. Take a dogfight for example; several of those take place every day over the Aegean. At a dogfight, you know that the pilot of one aircraft tries to manoeuvre avoiding the opponent pilot; therefore he does not have in mind, while calculating his moves, the middle line and how to avoid it while trying to keep his track. Therefore, he enters and exits national airspace numerous times during a dogfight which may last some minutes. The end result is that too many violations of national airspace are being recorded. However, this is the activity of only one aircraft. At the end of a day, the sum may be 15 violations, yet this does not reflect 15 aircraft assuming 15 different actions, but one which, for some minutes, had engaged in a dogfight, entering and exiting airspace, on account of its manoeuvres.
Still, the public opinion gets the wrong message: “the Aegean Sea is a sieve, the Turks, unabashed, have made a new record”. It would be better to put all that to a better perspective, so as not to give the wrong impression and pile on fear, concern and panic. The Armed Forces are always there, doing their job very effectively. It is important to remain calm and collectedly tackle the situation, and not to lead the public into a panicky psychology. As I already said, the situation is under control by the Armed Forces; besides that, we can all bring things back to their real dimension. We are not unwary, indeed, we are not inactive, we are not unsuspecting, we always do what we must.
ELIAS PROUFAS: Mister Minister, one last thing; the tenure of Mr. Leontaris will end in six days. Will it be renewed?
SAVVAS ANGELIDES: Are you asking about the General?
ΗΛΙΑΣ ΠΡΟΥΦΑΣ: Yes; three years have passed since he was placed, we know that he may have to be replaced in March.
SAVVAS ANGELIDES: I believe that we have established the framework for the questions that may be answered. This is not something that we have discussed. You can be sure that, when the right time comes, you will be informed on this issue.