Interview Given By The Minister Of National Defence, Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos, On The Evening News Of “Alpha Tv” Channel With Antonis Sroiter

June 22, 2020

ANTONIS SROITER: Good afternoon, Minister. Those who have been following the Greek-Turkish relations for years say that Turkey has sent us in practical terms an ultimatum recently. Either you sit down at the negotiating table or things will get really hot in the coming months.

NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: It is true that such declarations are suggesting that. All I am saying – is also what the Greek Government is saying – that it is impossible to be invited into a dialogue under terms of blackmailing or direct challenging of the Country’s sovereign rights.

This sort of dialogue is not what we want. If Mr. Çavuşoğlu considers that this is the way to invite another person into a dialogue, we believe that this is a strange way and while we really consider that communication channels should remain open, this dialogue should not be bullied. In other words, let us discuss about what we demand and possibly what should you grant us. Excuse me, but this is not the case. Thank you.

ANTONIS SROITER: This whole thing looks like a dead-end. On one hand, there is a country saying “sit down at the negotiating table with me, otherwise things will get hot and maybe we will go to war” and on the other hand, there is a country saying “I will not be blackmailed to sit down at the table”. How can this whole thing be overcome? What I mean? What would satisfy our side, the Greek side? What movements on the part of Turkey, to become convinced to sit down at a table and discuss?

NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: Turkey should prove its good neighborly intentions, but also its respect for International Law;΄and our persistence, our insistence that the rules of the International Law are suspected may be tiring, but we shall insist. In this case, as I have stated, Turkey acts as the troublemaker or the agitator or the bully in the region. This is not the way to discuss. We have stated that dialogue is what we want; we do want a dialogue but not under these terms.

ANTONIS SROITER: In order to draw a conclusion, if declarations concerning drilling on a Greek continental shelf stop, if violations stop for a while, then we do sit down at the table and discuss with Turkey?

NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: Discuss what? We need to know what will be discussed. As I told you, if dialogue is on the basis of “this is what we want, so you need to consider what you can give us, what we can get out of it”, then excuse me but this is a wrong basis for dialogue. As I told you, we do not intend to cut off the communications channels, but for a long time we are witnessing on an almost daily basis a very specific behavior. A behavior that does not help. Violations, infringements, overflights over inhabited islands, all this aggressive rhetoric. Very aggressive rhetoric and statements such as “we mean what we are planning and we do what we mean” do not really help.

ANTONIS SROITER: The red line – even by the former Government, and this Government also repeats that – as regards to the land is that if Turks set foot on the Hellenic territory, these people will be bombarded. Our message is very clear and they have received it. But what about our red line at sea, Minister? What should be done and what is our limit on responding? The digging by Turkish drilling machines? The conduct of researches? Their presence at a Greek continental shelf or a Greek EEZ? What is our limit?

NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: I do not want to go into a specific scenario. I will just repeat what has been said many times officially by the Government: that Greece shall not accept any challenging of its sovereign rights. Greece will respond, whatever that might mean, and it is our job here in the Ministry of National Defence and my job, as the political head of the Country’s Armed Forces, to ensure that the Country has the opportunity to respond. In other words, that the Country possesses combat effective and deterrent Armed Forces. With all that this implies. There are issues, there are problems; the struggle to improve the Armed Forces’ readiness and combat capability is constant. It ain’t not having problems; of course, most of these problems have to do with many years of financial difficulties, if not asphyxia, that the Country was facing. Something that had also an impact on spending on defence, armaments, but we are trying hardly to straighten things out and day after day, month after month, to come up with better preparedness and operational capability for the Armed Forces.

ANTONIS SROITER: Minister, Ι insist on the matter of the sea; our red line is a little vague compared to the land and maybe this enables our neighbors to threaten or make statements. Are you saying that if our sovereign rights are violated, then Greece will respond however it needs to? What is the extent of violation of our National sovereignty that would cause something like this? A vessel in Greek waters? A vessel carrying out research? A vessel digging? What is our limit?

NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: A ship in Greek waters under terms, possibly, of innocent passage or anything else would not in any case entail a dispute of sovereign rights. It has happened in the past and still happens. On the other hand, a research vessel that intends to carry out research south of Crete island, as it has been announced, certainly entails a violation of our sovereign right. I believe that there is no – if I may say so – question out there about what constitutes a violation of a red line on the part of Turkey and as we have said, we will not tolerate any of this and I believe that currently the Government has no other path to follow and the Prime Minister has solemnly said this.

ANTONIS SROITER: Mr. Panagiotopoulos your message is clear. In case of a research in Greek waters, this constitutes violation of our sovereign rights. We should send this message. Thank you very much.