Tensions between Greece and Turkey over the divided island of Cyprus appear to be escalating. Turkey says it’s increasing its military presence on the island in response to Washington’s lifting of an arms embargo against the Greek Cypriot administration.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu criticized the United States Friday for its stance toward Greece, saying it has become a toy of Athens in the Cyprus dispute.
He said the ones standing with the Greeks just for the sake of pleasing the Greeks should not expect friendship from Turkey.
Earlier this week, Cavusoglu announced that Turkey will increase its military presence on Cyprus after Washington lifted its military arms embargo on the Greek Cypriot administration.
The Mediterranean Island has been divided between Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities since 1974. The Greek Cypriot administration is the only internationally recognized government.
Washington’s action comes as U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price appeared to offer support to Athens amid rising tensions with Ankara over Greek islands in the Aegean Sea.
“Greece’s sovereignty over these islands is not in question,” said Price. “But we call on countries, including our allies, to respect territorial integrity and sovereignty and avoid actions that inflame tensions.”
Ankara has condemned Greece’s militarization of some of its islands close to Turkish shores, which Turkey claims violate an international agreement. Athens insists it’s only protecting its territory from Turkish threats.
University of Athens political scientist Cengiz Aktar said the Greek government is calculating that it has Washington’s support and is in no mood to back down from what it considers Turkish bullying.
“There is a common wisdom in Greece, don’t belittle small countries. We have a live example of Ukraine and Russia. I mean, yes, the Greeks are ready,” Aktar said.
Turkish-Greek tensions are nothing new, with the two countries going to the brink of war in 1996 over an uninhabited islet. U.S. intervention prevented open hostilities.
But with Turkey saying Greece is using U.S.-supplied weapons to militarize its islands, observers say Washington’s status as an honest broker is in question.
Asli Aydintasbas, a visiting fellow of the Brookings Institution, a Washington research group, said he is worried the countries are moving closer to war.
“I think this is significant and potentially very dangerous,” said Aydintasbas. “Clearly, both countries feel each other as a threat. We are used to occasional flare-ups in this relationship, but I think right now, the global environment is very uncertain, chaotic, and almost conducive to a military confrontation between Turkey and Greece.”
For now, neither Athens nor Ankara appears ready to step back. Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu said Friday that Turkey is prepared to resolve tensions diplomatically but warned Turkey wouldn’t hesitate to use hard power if diplomacy failed and Turkish interests are threatened.