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NATO Allies Growing Weary of Turkish Aggression

By Jeff Seldin October 29, 2020

The United States is pushing NATO countries to work with Turkey in hopes of healing divisions that have seen Ankara move closer to Russia, but at least one of those allies is bracing for more turmoil.

Greece, embroiled in a dispute with Turkey over rights and resources in the eastern Mediterranean, has repeatedly put its naval forces on alert in recent weeks. And a key official worries tensions between the two countries are part of a larger pattern that has no end in sight.

Turkey has "become increasingly more self-confident … coupled with a rising element of aggressive rhetoric, a confrontational attitude and the revisionist political position," Greek Minister of National Defense Nikos Panagiotopoulos said Thursday, during a virtual talk sponsored by the German Marshall Fund.

"At some point, something needs to be done," he said. "Unfortunately, this entails elements of being unpleasant."

Panagiotopoulos and others say that newfound aggressiveness was on display Wednesday, when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at the West, and France, during a speech to members of his political party.

"They literally want to relaunch the Crusades," Erdogan said, referring to the French government's defense of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

The Turkish leader also said the West is "once again headed to a period of barbarity."

Turkey has also incurred the wrath of Western countries, specifically fellow NATO allies, after carrying out tests last week of its Russian-made S-400 air defense system.

Talking to reporters Wednesday, a top U.S. State Department official said Washington was prepared to take a harder line with Ankara, warning the threat of sanctions was very real.

"Sanctions is very much something that is on the table," Assistant Secretary of State R. Clarke Cooper told reporters. "Operationalizing such an asset or system incurs further risk of sanctions and further risks of restrictions."

The United States has banned Turkey from participation in its F-35 stealth fighter jet program, and threats of additional sanctions, from the U.S. or other European countries, are not new.

But Panagiotopoulos said Thursday that he believed Turkey was likely to make the Russian air defense system operational sooner rather than later and that NATO might be running out of time to take meaningful action.

"If nothing is done, then Turkey has all the right to believe and its leaders have all the right to believe that they can go on uninhibited, demonstrating that type of hostile and confrontational behavior that threatens stability in the whole region," the Greek minister of defense said.

U.S. officials continue to warn Turkey's use of the advanced Russian radar technology could compromise NATO's military systems and could potentially be used to target NATO jets in Turkey, including the F-35.

Such concerns, though, have repeatedly been cast aside by Turkish officials, something that troubles Panagiotopoulos.

"Russia cannot be counted out," he said, adding Ankara's purchase of the S-400 air defense system is "enough to prove that potentially Turkey, whether it wanted to or inadvertently, would prove to be a source of undermining NATO's cohesion from within."

Reuters contributed to this report.

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