It is now some time that the American Hellenic Institute organized in Athens a debate over “Greece as a strategic partner [for the US] in the Eastern Mediterranean”, but the relevance of the event still resonates – especially after the controversial visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Athens (and Thrace) during which Ankara deployed its revisionist intentions for the region.
The AHI event was attended by a large audience of international-relations aficionados, or representatives of the economy, diplomats and top brass. AHI Chairman Nick Laryngakis talked of the “excellent job” that Greek PM Tsipras made in his recent Washington visit; he also summarized the positive results of earlier visits of high Greek military personnel in the States, that allowed for the “dimension of American interests projection in the region of the Eastern Mediterranean” to surface more clearly. Laryngakis put special emphasis on the role the Souda Bay installations are called to play in the “region of unrest” the Eastern Med is increasingly becoming. [The flare-up resulting from President Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem was soon to underscore the tensions in the region].
U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Pyatt was even more pronounced in explaining how central the strategic role of Greece was becoming, with Souda Bay being “a global model for military corporation” for the U.S., while the NATO/KFor preparedness drills and joint exercises in Alexandroupolis show how defense cooperation is spreading. At the same time, Greece is also getting a strategic role as an energy hub helping to ween Europe from one-sided dependence on Russian natural gas with web of gas pipelines (TAP, IGB, LNG de-liquefaction facility in Alexandroupolis), as well as through its involvement in the efforts to tie the Balkans in Euro-Atlantic structures.
Former Greek Army Chief of Staff Frangoulis Frangos also broached on the energy components of security, dwelling on the choke points that tend to form in the region and could be faced with the cooperation of Greece as well as Cyprus. He also was quite critical about the U.S. still relying heavily on Turkish cooperation in the region from a security point of view, while Ankara is proving less and less predictable.
Cypriot lawyer (and Chairman of the AHI Greek chapter) George Economou pointed to the “strategic depth that the continuum of Greece and the Cyprus Republic provides to the West”, especially now that Israel and Egypt have been associated to such cooperation. He, too, was critical over the West relying on Turkey, especially after the latter’s continuing negativism over the Cyprus issue.
Finally, shadow Foreign Minister George Koumoutsakos and Alternate Defense Minister Dimitris Vitsas joined the discussion asking for “new opportunities to be approached in an intelligent and ambitious way” (Koumoutsakos) and for everybody to realise that in contacts with the US Administration “the important thing is to get results and not to stay content with positive pronouncements”. (Vitsas).