Greece will this summer lease two state-of-the-art French warships, the defense ministry said Friday, as Athens seeks to bolster its defenses in the Aegean Sea amid growing tensions with Turkey, which calls on the former to avoid escalating tensions by stopping the violations in disputed islets.
Confirming a report by the daily Kathimerini, Greece's deputy defense minister, Fotis Kouvelis, told Skai radio that France "has made two frigates available to us in a leasing agreement."
The deal was finalized in a telephone call between Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and French President Emmanuel Macron, Kouvelis said.
According to the daily Kathimerini, Greece will lease two French FREMM-type navy frigates for a period of five years, with the vessels expected to be inducted into the Greek Navy by August.
At the end of the five-year lease, Greece is to take delivery of its first Belharra frigate, Kathimerini reported.
The acquisition of the two frigates -- probably the Languedoc and the Aquitaine -- was part of efforts to boost the country's military capabilities at a time of rising tensions with Turkey, the newspaper said.
In the meantime, speaking on Friday afternoon, French Defense Minister Florence Parly said that the news "is not relevant, although of course we are at the disposal of our Greek friends to continue working even more closely."
A Greek defense ministry source expressed surprise at Parly's comments, insisting that Greek premier Tsipras had given the go-ahead on Thursday evening for Kouvelis to talk about the deal.
The control of territorial waters in the Aegean Sea remains as a problematic issue between the two countries. Citing bilateral and international treaties, Turkey says both countries have six-nautical-mile-wide territorial waters and airspace around their respective mainland and islands.
In contrast, Greece, citing international law, wants to increase its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles, which would leave practically the whole Aegean Sea under Greek control. Through a parliamentary motion in 1995, Turkey declared unilateral action by arguing that, if Greece were to extend the boundary to 12 nautical miles it would be considered a casus belli.
The two countries also have diplomatic problems over the rights of Turkish-Muslim and Greek-Orthodox communities, as well as Greek support or inaction for terrorist groups targeting Turkey.
The dispute between Turkey and Greece over the uninhabited Kardak islets, situated between the Greek island chain of the Dodecanese and the southwestern mainland coast of Turkey, brought the two countries to the brink of armed conflict in 1996.
The crisis was triggered when a Turkish vessel shipwrecked on the islets on Dec. 25, 1995. Greece claimed that the accident took place on its territorial waters, which Turkey denied, claiming that the islets belonged to Turkey.
The Greek military sent a soldier to plant the Greek flag on an islet in the east, resulting in the deployment of troops from both countries around the islets.
Turkey's only female Prime Minister Tansu Çiller said at the time that Turkey was ready for a military operation and sent troops to the western islet to plant the Turkish flag.
Three Greek soldiers, Christodoulos Karathanasis, Panagiotis Vlahakos, and Ektoras Gialopsos, were killed during a reconnaissance mission when their helicopter which took off from Greek frigate Navarino crashed on Jan. 31, 1996, at the height of the crisis.
Tensions were defused when then-U.S. President Bill Clinton, American delegates and the NATO undersecretary spoke with both sides and the situation reverted back to normal.
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