Defence Minister Evangelos Apostolakis spoke of Greece’s relations and role in the East Mediterranean, during his address at the annual EXPOSEC-Defenseworld Conference 2019 on “Defining a modern defense & security strategy,” held at Hellenic Armed Forces Officers’ Club (LAED) in Athens on Tuesday.
In his speech, Apostolakis said that Greece lies in the eastern Mediterranean, a rapidly developing and demanding environment with fragile balances and many global challenges of geostrategic and geoeconomic importance. “To address these challenges we have adopted policies that prioritize on national level cooperation, peace and the promotion of Greece’s role as a provider of stability in the wider region of the Balkans and the East Mediterranean,” he stated.
Referring to Turkey, Apostolakis said it is a difficult and provocative neighbour but that part of efforts to deescalate tension, which Greece manages with prudence and strategic precaution, is an upcoming meeting with the Turkish side to outline steps towards Confidence Building Measures.
Moreover, the defence minister condemned Turkey’s recent activity in Cyprus’ Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ), stating “At this point I will refer to Turkey’s recent decision to proceed with illegal drilling in Cyprus’ EEZ, a decision we have condemned and which has also raised an international outcry from the European Union, the United States, France, Israel, Egypt and many others.” He said Cyprus has kept “a cool and calm stance” and Greece is working with the Republic of Cyprus and EU partners and allies on the issue.
In terms of the Balkans, Apostolakis said that Greece continues to work on stability and the EU-NATO orientation in the region. The accession of North Macedonia to NATO following the historic Prespes Agreement “will contribute to the consolidation and strengthening of the sense of stability and cooperation and peaceful co-existence in the region,” he noted. “Our aim is for Greece to become North Macedonia’s top strategic defence partner.”
The Defence Minister also noted the close strategic cooperation that Greece has developed with Egypt, Israel and Cyprus and said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s participation in the recent Greece, Cyprus and Israeli trilateral summit is a tangible proof of US support.
Apostolakis also made special note to Greece’s relations with the US, especially the 1st Strategic Dialogue between Greece and the US in Washington in December, which he attended. “It was a confirmation of our excellent and multidimensional cooperation in the field of defence and safety but also for the futher enhancement of the equal strategic relation,” he said. The initiative of Senators Bob Menendez and Marco Rubio to table a draft law for safety and energy cooperation in the East Mediterreanean in 2019 provides another tangible confirmation of the strategic relations between the two countries, he pointed out.
Furthermore, the minister said that improvements and upgrading of the Greek Armed Forces had begun, solely of the absolutely necessary armaments programmes. All actions are part of efforts to “revive the domestic defence and shipbuilding industry, which will obviously also benefit the national economy,” he said, including the success of Skaramangas and Elefsina shipyards, the Hellenic Aerospace Industry, the Hellenic Defence Systems and the Hellenic Vehicle Industry.
Greece is “unwavering in its commitment to defending our national positions, as those are defined by International Law and the international treaties,” and the Greek Armed Forces are well trained and effective, he said, able to defend national rights as needed.