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ATHENS – Crushed by debt and desperate for cash, Greece has so little money it can’t even buy enough fuel for the military, which is finding itself over-matched against growing Turkish violations of airspace and waters, taking advantage of a distracted government.

It’s so bad, said Prof. Costas Koliopoulos, a military expert at Panteion University in Athens, that Greece can no longer defend itself against Turkish military aggression.

Speaking exclusively to Newsweek,  he said: “Turkey is the reason we have very large armed forces. And now Turkey is sensing a shift in the balance of power. Their increased activities in the Aegean are an attempt to wear us out.”

Since Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras took power on Jan. 25 and formed a coalition administration, Turkey has been testing and provoking Greece, especially ired that he named a nationalist, Independent Greeks (ANEL) leader Panos Kammenos as Defense Minister.

Kammenos has priced Turkey too, going to the disputed islet of Imia in a helicopter to drop a wreath on the spot where Greek pilots were killed during tensions there and standing up to Ankara, which has a tradition of trying to test new Greek Defense Ministers.

Turkey frequently sends in fighter jets to violate the air space of Greece – a fellow NATO member – but has stepped that up, with 21 days of incursions reported in March, leaving the outnumbered Greek Air Force with little response other than to shadow the invaders and engage in mock dog fights.

On March 20 some 12 Turkish fighter planes violated Greek airspace no less than 38 times. “Two engagements ensued with the Hellenic Air Force interception fighters,” says the Hellenic General National Defence General Staff’s report.

But that, along with Turkey now having sent in Corvettes and war ships into Greek waters past the country’s islands more often, means the Greek Armed Forces have to scramble jets and ships and employ costly maneuvers at a time when it’s reported the country is so short of cash it might have to issue IOU’s instead of salary and benefit checks, and has already stopped paying suppliers and vendors.

Relations between the two countries have been tense for decades, since Turkey unlawfully invaded Cyprus, and where it still keeps a standing army on the divided island in violation of international law and as it wants to join the European Union, of which Cyprus is already a member.

Figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) show that last year Greece spent €4 billion on defense, 2.5% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a ratio far higher than the European average.

“Greece has signed several very large deals in the past years, including one for €1.7bn for German Leopard panzers,” Sam Perlo-Freeman, head of SIPRI’s Military Expenditure project told the magazine.

“One can ask how necessary those purchases really were.” Koliopoulos, who maintains close links to the military, says that while the government cuts impacted on the armed forces’ morale, the biggest problem is the armed forces ability to acquire fuel.

Greece could reduce its military manpower but “dismissing large numbers of military-trained men in a country with 50% youth unemployment might not be a good idea,” says Perlo-Freeman.

The government also wants to keep good relations with the military which recently won court decisions to restore salaries slashed as part of austerity measures a previous government imposed on orders of international lenders.

That has led to some Parliamentary debate where critics said the government, which is almost on the verge of stopping salaries and pensions, is still pressing ahead with some military expenditures despite the crisis.

“You’d be very hard-pressed to find one senior officer favorable to SYRIZA, but they are comfortable with [Right-wing defence minister Panos] Kammenos,” said Perlo-Freeman.

The post Crisis Leaving Greek Military Defenseless Against Turkish Tests appeared first on The National Herald.

Source: The National Herald
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