By Yiğit Saner
Washington recently gave the green light to the sale of 40 F-35 fighter jets, a total of $8.6 billion worth, to Athens. According to the Greek news outlet Kathimerini, in addition to the aircraft sale, the US will also provide $200 million Foreign Military Financing assistance to Greece. The Greek newspaper further reported that, in exchange for these “favors”, Athens has agreed at the request of the White House to transfer outdated Russian air defense systems and ammunition to Ukraine. The news wrote that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken conveyed the request to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on January 26, suggesting that Greece can either sell or “donate” the systems to Ukraine.
As a result, Athens has decided to transfer outdated systems and equipment that are no longer in active use of the Greek Armed Forces to Kyiv. The Greek Army has Tor, Osa, S-300 air defense and ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft systems, and ammunition reserves for these. These systems share at least three common features: they are all defense-oriented, outdated, and of Russian production.
Biden’s “Athens formula”
On 2 February, both Greek and American media reported that US President Joe Biden plans to pursue a broader solution, termed the “Athens formula,” for the $61 billion military aid package to Ukraine that was blocked by Republican opposition in Congress. According to this “formula”, Washington will donate excess military equipment to Athens. In turn, Athens will contribute military equipment out of use to Kyiv.
Excess weapons to Greece, outdated defense systems to Ukraine
According to US media, if the aid to Ukraine faces obstacles in Congress, the “give-and-take” policy won’t be limited to Greece, and Washington will present similar requests to other countries. Considering that President Biden is expected to request $14 billion from Congress for Israel and encounter opposition, it raises curiosity whether the White House implement similar formulas for transferring weapons to Israel.
According to the “Athens formula,” in addition to the $200 million military financing, Washington will donate “excess” weapons from the US military to Greece: Three 23-meter patrol boats, two Lockheed Martin C-130H transport planes, 10 Allison T56 turboprop engines for Lockheed P-3 patrol aircraft, 60 M-2 Bradley combat vehicles and transport trucks. In turn, Greece will donate its outdated defense systems to Ukraine. According to Kathimerini, the government has already issued the instructions to the military and the transfer may have already “started.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has reacted to the developments. Lavrov stated that Western countries are encouraging other countries to send Russian-made weapons to Ukraine without Moscow’s consent. Referring to international agreements, Lavrov remarked, ”The recipient of a weapon cannot resell it or send it anywhere without the supplier’s consent” and implied that such arms transfers could strain relations.
“Greece in the arms of the US”
According to American international relations expert with Russian origin, Andrew Korybko, the US is turning Greece into a vassal state to keep under control in the long term. He says that Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis either isn’t aware of this or doesn’t care because it suits his agenda. According to the expert’s article, first published on his own website, the underlying reason of the Athens government is Russia’s extensively developing relations with Türkiye. To adapt to these new circumstances, Greece has left itself in the arms of the US.
Ankara strengthens strategic autonomy
As known, Athens is part of the Western sanctions on Moscow, and as Korybko pointed out, “in May 2022, Athens signed a mutual defense cooperation agreement with Washington.” Following this development, it is known that relations between Moscow and Athens have become strained.
According to Korybko, although Ankara “exports Bayraktar drones to Kyiv and voted against Russia in the United Nations General Assembly, it is a more reliable military partner for Russia than Greece.”
Türkiye “has kept the straits shut to non-regional NATO members’ navies per its international legal obligations” and “defied the West’s sanctions regime.” Additionally, as highlighted by Korybko, Türkiye “never even considered sending its Russian-sourced military equipment like the S-400 air defense systems to Kyiv.” Korybko suggests that Türkiye’s political stance on the eve and during the Russia-Ukraine war “As Türkiye continually strengthens its strategic autonomy in the New Cold War, neighboring Greece voluntarily submitted itself to becoming one of the US’ top vassals anywhere in the broader region.”
Korybko, comparing the approaches of Ankara and Athens towards Moscow, highlights that with the “‘Moldova Highway’, being built in ‘emergency’ mode between Romania and Ukraine, Greece is one of the most important terminal points for US military equipment en route to that former Soviet Republic”. “By contrast, Türkiye plays no role in facilitating the transit of US military equipment to Ukraine.”
“Greece has gone way too far”
For Korybko, apart from the developing relations between Ankara and Moscow, unresolved disputes in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean are one of the reasons for Greece “accepting a vassal status.” The expert writes that the Greek government’s perspective is built on leveraging larger military-strategic dynamics, and Greece believes it can “balance Türkiye via the US”. That’s what Athens is complying with the “anti-Russian demands of its new patron.”
All the steps taken by the Athens government might be understandable from its “balancing policy” perspective, but donating Russian weapons to Kyiv without Moscow’s permission indicates a completely different situation, and in Korybko’s view, “Greece has gone way too far in this respect”. Korybko says that Athens has chosen the path of its relationship with Moscow with “reckless moves” and warns that restoring the broken mutual trust would become “practically impossible to ever restore afterward.”
According to the expert, in this new scenario, as long as Russia-Türkiye relations remain robust and US-Türkiye relations troubled, “no realistic chance of the US dumping Greece for Türkiye as its top regional partner.”
Türkiye: The strategic enemy
As the alignments become more clear, Türkiye can turn the deterioration of Greece-Russia relations into an opportunity to strengthen its position in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean. We asked Dr. Mehmet Perinçek, the Representative of the Vatan Party in Russia and faculty member at Moscow State University and UWI author, about how Ankara should position itself in these new circumstances. According to Perinçek, Ankara’s expectations from Washington are futile: the US sees Greece and the PKK terrorist organization as its partners in the region, while considering Türkiye strategically as an “enemy.”
Perinçek points out that the US aims to “divide, subdue, and submit Türkiye to US plans using Greece and the PKK” stating “We know that it is not possible for the US to implement its plans without first Turkish state being toppled.”
“F-16 sale is a blackmail instrument”
All of these developments show that the dreams of a “new era of cooperation with the West” are far from realistic. As revealed in reports by Tevfik Kadan from Turkish Aydınlık newspaper last week, the US conditions the provision of F-16s to Türkiye on their use only within NATO plans and not flying over the Aegean Islands. Perinçek says: “This shows that F-16s cannot be used for Türkiye’s national interests and will not be effective in eliminating the threats against Türkiye.” According to the expert, Türkiye is being “lured into a trap” through F-16s and also the US is preventing Türkiye from turning to “alternative weapons and defense systems.”
“Türkiye can overcome its isolation”
Perinçek suggests that till the completion of the sale of F-16s, the US has the opportunity to blackmail Türkiye. He emphasizes that Türkiye will face threats from the US, such as “if you do this, we won’t give you F-16s”, which means putting a mortgage on Ankara’s “security policies.”
As Greece’s relations with the US and Ukraine intensify, and its ties with Russia sour, it presents an opportunity for Türkiye. In this regard, according to Perinçek, “Türkiye has the opportunity to bring Russia to its side in the Eastern Mediterranean, Aegean, and Cyprus issues.” The analyst underlines that to seize this opportunity, Türkiye “needs to change its policies in the Black Sea and Ukraine and also recognize Crimea as Russian territory.” For Perinçek, this policy change could render it possible that “Russia formally recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.”
Warning that Türkiye is facing “great dangers by great powers – the US, Israel, and France – in the Eastern Mediterranean and is isolated,” the analyst emphasizes that Türkiye needs allies to overcome this. The deterioration of Greece-Russia relations between gives a “great opportunity to end this isolation”. But, again, to embrace that Türkiye requires “a comprehensive foreign policy strategy.”