Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he no longer recognised the existence of the leader of neighbouring Greece and would not meet him at a planned summit this year, threatening to deepen a crisis within Nato over Turkey’s opposition to the alliance’s expansion.
Erdoğan is blocking bids by Sweden and Finland to join Nato in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He has accused the Nordic states of maintaining ties with Kurdish militants whom he says pose a security risk to Turkey. On Monday, he turned his ire on Nato member Greece, saying it too harboured “terrorists”.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Greece’s prime minister, met with US president Joe Biden last week and addressed a joint session of Congress. He urged US legislators, when deciding on defence procurement in the eastern Mediterranean, to consider Turkey’s violations of its airspace.
This amounted to lobbying Congress against providing Turkey with the F-16 fighter jet, Erdoğan said in televised remarks after a cabinet meeting. Erdoğan has pressed Biden for the jets to modernise Turkey’s ageing fleet after it was kicked out of the F-35 fighter plane programme for buying an advanced Russian missile system designed to shoot down Nato aircraft.
“In my meeting with [Mitsotakis], we agreed not to involve third countries. Despite this . . . in his speech to the Senate, he spoke against Turkey and suggested to America, ‘Don’t you dare give Turkey the F-16,’” he said. “From now on, there is no one called Mitsotakis for me.”
Erdoğan will skip a “strategic council meeting” this year when he would have met Greece’s leader. “On the F-16 matter, I don’t think America is likely to wait on Mitsotakis’s word to make its decision,” he added.
Greece and Turkey, which are Nato allies, came dangerously close to armed conflict in 2020 when Ankara deployed warships and seismic vessels to explore for hydrocarbons in Mediterranean waters internationally recognised as Greek. But Erdoğan has sought to repair the relationship more recently, including during a visit to Istanbul by Mitsotakis in March.
In response to Erdogan’s rebuke, a Greek government spokesman said: “We will not confront statements with the Turkish leadership. Greek foreign policy is strongly based on history, international law and our alliances, no matter how much it bothers some.”
Erdoğan also signalled that he may soon launch another cross-border operation into Syria to fight the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which allied with the US to fight Isis.
Turkey’s armed forces have invaded Syria three times to fight the YPG, most recently in 2019. Its effort to create a “safe zone” along the border at the time fell short, however, when Russian forces moved into areas controlled by the YPG after they had been vacated by US special forces. Nato warned that the incursion jeopardised the fight against Isis, and European countries including Sweden imposed restrictions on defence exports to Turkey in response.
“We will soon take new steps to complete the 30km-deep ‘safe zones’ along our southern border that we previously began,” Erdoğan said, adding that a final decision would be made on Thursday at his national security council. “As soon as our military, intelligence service and police finish their preparations, God willing, our operations will begin.”
Additional reporting by Eleni Varvitsioti in Athens