The Minister of National Defence Panos Kammenos, accompanied by the Chief of HAGS Lieutenant General Alkiviadis Stefanis and the Chief of HAFGS Lieutenant General Christos Christodoulou, visited the Hellenic 1st Army, the Hellenic Tactical Air Force HQ and the 110th Combat Wing.
The Minister of National Defence stated the following, addressing the journalists:
“We are here, in the Hellenic 1st Army, to exchange wishes with the personnel; it is one of our stops in this tour we began, together with the Chief of Hellenic Army General Staff Lieutenant General Alkiviadis Stefanis in outposts of Epirus and Macedonia, which we will continue over the next days in all the outposts of the Hellenic Army and the Hellenic Armed Forces.
I wish to congratulate in particular the Commander of the Hellenic 1st Army and the Staff Officers for the excellent job they have done this year. I would like to tell you, in brief, that this year we implemented the decisions which had been made last year.
Many outposts have been opened in the area of the Hellenic 1st Army. For the first time, conscripts are not trained in training centres in big cities, but they come straight to the borders, in areas where personnel are needed. A fair system is applied now, in which every soldier, regardless of the influence he might have in the past, serves for at least three months at the frontier.
This has really helped the effort to make soldiers’ life easier, to meet service requirements and, in parallel, to provide officers with the means they need to fulfil their mission”.
JOURNALIST: Minister, your visit comes at the same time with the payment of the arrears to soldiers.
P. KAMMENOS: The payment of the backpay was one of my main requests to the Prime Minister from the very first time this government was formed. It was an act of injustice against the personnel. This is not a gift to the soldiers, we just pay them what we owed, the money which had been wrongly cut by the previous governments.
I believe, however, that paying back their pay cuts is atonement. I can say that this year, apart from the reorganization and the operational matters, two issues were very serious for me and for the military leadership: firstly, to restore this injustice regarding their salary cuts, and secondly, to achieve the release of the two officers who were detained in Turkey.
I would like to assure the Greek people that we have the best Armed Forces. You can see also, within the Alliance, that Greece, all its Arms receive awards constantly. The morale is high, professionalism has led this country to a geopolitical reinforcement and, as a result, from a problem in this area, or from a part of the problem, Greece has turned into a pole of stability.
Our cooperations, bilateral, trilateral or quadrilateral to the south, with Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, as well as to the north, with Romania and Bulgaria have made Greece a pole of stability in the area of the Mediterranean Sea and the Balkans.
I believe that this has been achieved exactly because the personnel of the Armed Forces, who are the key weapon system in Greece, remained strong over this crisis period. They did not even complain about the huge pay cuts in their salaries, nor about the budget reduction of the Ministry of National Defence by 60%. This is the reason why, as you may all see, our allies trust Greece.
New units have enriched the military premises in Larisa; these units reinforce both the structure of the Hellenic Armed Forces, as well as of allied forces and you will see this over the next months. They are a factor of security and when there is security in a country, there is also the possibility of new investments to come and boost economic growth.
For this, I am grateful to the personnel of the Armed Forces, as their political head.
JOURNALIST: Yesterday, you sent a strong message to FYROM from the outpost of Niki. Do you believe that these repeated provocations of the neighbouring state might potentially reverse the public opinion in our country regarding the agreement?
P. KAMMENOS: I am glad these provocations exist because they show exactly the character of FYROM’s leaders. Their continuous provocative statements of irredentism confirm what we used to say that they cannot be covered under the veil of an agreement which they will not observe. I am also glad that the Prime Minister stated before the Parliament that if these provocations are continued and if the non existence of a “Macedonian” ethnicity is questioned, or the irredentist tendencies about an alleged minority, and they continue with their provocations, there will be no deal.
For me, as you know, my permanent position is that I cannot accept any agreement includes the term “Macedonia” and I called on the Leader of the Major Opposition to clarify his point of view.
I visited the outposts because, as I have publicly stated – and I said this to the soldiers, officers, NCOs, conscripts and border guards with whom I cooperated over all these years – this may be my last visit. It is sure that if this agreement is submitted to the Parliament, I will no more be Minister of National Defence, nor will the INDEPENDENT GREEKS be a part of the coalition government.
JOURNALIST: Mr. Minister, will the election be in spring or in autumn?
P.KAMMENOS: I believe that the election should not be held soon. Despite what we had agreed with SYRIZA party about forming a coalition government, the Skopje issue was raised much earlier than what had been planned. It would be better for our country if the election was at the end of the four year tenure. On our side, we will do our best to achieve this. But you may realize that there are some issues which are a “red line” for us and, as a political head of the Armed Forces and due to the position I have officially adopted from the beginning of my political career, I cannot accept to remain Minister of National Defence and, at the same time, sign a compromise of the term “Macedonia”. I will never do that.
I will fight with all my strength to make it clear to everybody – and mostly to foreigners – that Greece is willing to help finding a solution. We do not want war with anybody, but we want also everybody to realize that they cannot call into question the history of the Hellenic Macedonia, based on a propaganda that Mussolini and Tito started. If I do not succeed in this, I will do my respective duty.
And, of course, what I am asking for is the Armed Forces not to be involved – and they are not involved anyway – in politics. The Hellenic Armed Forces unite the Greek people, they belong to every Greek. The political head has a different office from the one of the military command who will continue with their work, regardless of who the political leader is, with as high a morale as now, with professionalism and with the willingness to reward the Greek people with the benefit derived from the improvement of our country’s geopolitical position.