Defence Minister Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos’ interview on “SKAI CHANNEL” primetime news

May 26, 2020

SIA KOSSIONI: Let us welcome in our primetime news the Minister of National Defence Mr. Nikos Panagiotopoulos. Good evening Minister and thank you for being here with us.

NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: Good evening Mrs. Kosioni, good evening to your viewers!

SIA KOSSIONI: Let us begin with Evros, in order to continue the interview from the point that my colleague was covering the issue, and ask for the reason of the forces’ reinforcement as we speak, of Police Forces in Evros and whether we are going to witness the reinforcement of Military Forces as well.

NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: I have repeatedly said in the past that the alert in Evros was not terminated after the crisis was eased off last March, when we had the attempt we all know of, which was repelled by the joint effort of the Armed and Police Forces, with the central coordination and we moved on.

There have been some statements that indicate that we will once again have tension in our borders and especially in our land borders, and that is why we do not relax in our vigilance.

SIA KOSSIONI: So, Minister, do we have a new alert?

NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: I have already told you, the alert was never terminated.

SIA KOSSIONI: All right, but now a decision was made on reinforcing the region with new Police Forces…

NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: The reinforcement is performed gradually, as it happened during the last time, and that is the reason we were ready when this attempt was made under hybrid threat terms, but let’s not get involved with this special terminology.

Anyway, as I have told you, we make our plans and take our measures, so that we eliminate the slightest possibility of surprise and of course we will reinforce the natural barriers in Evros even further, having as priority the construction of the fence underway.

SIA KOSSIONI: Can you tell us exactly what has happened finally with the fence and that incident in Evros, which caused so many discussions and tensions rose with the Opposition, with which you have reached a minimum consent a while ago, regarding national issues…

NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: It is true that tensions rose, but when the Government or a Minister is accused publically of letting or tolerating the occupation of the country’s territories by foreign forces, we owe to give the appropriate answer, in an appropriate manner.

Let me say quickly, the issue was completely covered by the Prime Minister yesterday, in a clear and explicit manner, in his interview on the TV station. So, I am not trying to deal with the issue again, because it is completely covered. But, because today a meeting was held at the Pentagon, due to lack of space in the Parliament, in the Plenary Session room and in the other rooms, having as a result a scheduled meeting of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, which was scheduled for this Tuesday, with the additional presence of the Foreign Affairs Minister, in order to give some explanations.

This meeting was held after all and I believe all explanations were given with all details. There was an interesting discussion, that is in an appropriate and right manner, based on the responsibility of the parties’ representatives and the parties regarding this sensitive national issue, which is not suitable, I must add, for opposition practices, irresponsible or opportunistic. This has not been avoided the last few days, given the fact that all this discussion started from a completely false publication which was reproduced in the foreign press and from this point the discussion began in the interior of the country. I believe everything was explained, there was never a territory occupation by foreign forces here-the Turkish Armed Forces in Evros-these days: the borders are clear and delimited.

SIA KOSSIONI: I believe this has been made clear by you Minister, nevertheless, there have been two demarches that there was mobilization, so I would like to ask you about the next day. What kind of mobilization was that and if it is still in process in the region where we are going to install the fence.

NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: Look, demarches which are demarches of protest and secret documents, have taken place due to the fact that in a small strip of land by a river, with the specific features of Evros, the very specific and ‘rough’ terrain physiology of Evros, so,when military forces are concentrated in a small space on both sides of a delimited, but very hard to distinct border line, due to its physiology, then the situation involves risks. It was the realization of these risks, given the existing tension, that he wanted to prevent and demarch that was made by the Foreign Affairs Ministry, with regard to which Minister Mr. Nikos Dendias referred extensively in his answer.

SIA KOSSIONI: When will the fence be completed? Tell us about our response as a country in case the Turkish side presents obstacles.

NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: It is clear that the Turkish side isn’t happy with this fence’s construction. Probably because during the last days some preparatory works were performed by the Hellenic Army and the Army Geographical Service regarding the fence’s construction which is in process, I remind you, by the Ministry of Citizen Protection. These preparatory works of terrain charting and of the clear boundaries, especially in regions where this is difficult, like the bridgeheads, are necessary.

Evros is not a river flowing, with the one bank on one side being Turkish and the other on the other side being Greek. I remind you of the existence of the border which has been specified by the 1926 Protocol. Based on this delimitation, it was Evro’s river-bed at that time, but since then, many decades passed and the river-bed has changed; the result of these long lasting changes is that there are some parts of Greek territory East of Evros and respectively some parts of Turkish territory West of Evros, the so called ‘bridgeheads’, like the Ferres bridgehead, where a few Turkish and Greek military forces were gathered, but within the territorial boundaries of each country.

So, some preparatory works were performed to clear the ground, in order to proceed with the charting, that is to find the spot for the construction of the fence. The Hellenic Army forces came and deforested some parts of this overgrown forest there, a forest which was impenetrable for many years. The Turkish side saw that, they reacted to this activity of the Hellenic Army coming to the spot to see what happened, but within their own boundaries.

SIA KOSSIONI: When will the fence be ready? There is a timetable, given the fact, as you said before, that there are threats from the Turkish side regarding a new wave of refugees and this is reinforced by the pictures released by the Turkish Mass Media in the last few days, showing refugee ‘camps’ deployed along the coastline. So, on one hand they say that they may send people to Evros again, and on the other hand, they threaten about refugees flows from the sea…

NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: Greece defends and secures its borders, especially its land borders. Besides, this was proven last March in the most emphatic way, if I may say so. The effort continues. The fence will be constructed and works covering 26 kilometers are already in process; if I am not mistaken,

tomorrow the Minister of Citizen Protection Mr. Chrysohoidis will go to Evros, accompanied by engineers to inspect the progress.

But, as I told you, there are a lot of preparatory works that must be performed and they are not always easy in some land parts, as I described. The goal is to execute the works as soon as possible.

SIA KOSSIONI: Can we be equally ready at sea?

NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: Regarding the sea, we have already intensified our deterrent power. Of course, the Port Police Corps helps in this field, having somehow upgraded its deterrent efforts, as well as the Navy’s floating units at the sea level. The sea is undoubtedly a difficult field, but I believe-based on the result-there was a great deterrence there too, regarding those attempting to cross to our country.

Since there are indications that the pressure on our borders will be intensified in the near future, we must do our job. The Armed Forces performed their duty last March, they keep on performing it and they will continue so. There is no doubt about that, all the more so, the scenario of territorial occupation.

SIA KOSSIONI: Are you afraid Minister of a ‘hot summer’? On one hand, there is always a threat of refugees’ flows, and on the other hand, we have seen during the last days an intense movement from the Turkish side at sea, provocative actions in the Aegean, but in the air as well, we had unusual overflights during the last days, even above big Greek islands. What are the prospects and what information do you have?

NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: First of all: We are not afraid, either myself or the Armed Forces! Nobody is afraid. But we prepare ourselves, we examine all possibilities, we analyze scenarios and do our job.

It is true that Turkey’s aggressive behavior has been intensified during the last days through overflights, with this kind of behavior being more and more frequent. We make it known to all bodies, in the context of the International Relations and our International Allies. From then on, we prepare ourselves. Among the things we deal with is an almost everyday cooperation with the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the competent Minister, under the coordination of course of the Prime Minister, regarding the measures we must take and the actions we must perform from now on.

I do not know if the summer will be ‘hot’. I would rather see a hot summer with regard to tourists for both countries. This would be wishful thinking. Other than that, we will do our job, preparing ourselves, nothing more.

SIA KOSSIONI: Finally, Minister, there is a forewarned announcement regarding a drilling, by activating the known ‘Turkish-Libyan Memorandum’, in mid-summer, since the summer is here. So, in case Turkey implements its threat to drill South of Crete, what are we going to do?

NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: I have said that so many times and it is not good to do a detailed plans analysis! We will do whatever necessary to deter such behaviors, whatever is required to defend our sovereign rights. On this matter I believe we are both clear, I myself and even more, the Prime Minister. So, I don’t think that it is necessary to say anything more than that.

SIA KOSSIONI: Minister, Mr. Panagiotopoulos, thank you for having this interview with us. Good night!