Turkey's Erdogan says patience limited on Greek island militarisation

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stepped up criticism of what Turkey calls a growing Greek military buildup. PHOTO: REUTERS

ANKARA (BLOOMBERG) - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Greece that his patience is running thin over the militarisation of Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, adding to tensions between the two neighbouring Nato allies.

"They have islands in their possession, they have bases on these islands; if illegitimate threats against us continue based on them, our patience has a limit," Mr Erdogan said during a visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina on Tuesday (Sept 6).

Mr Erdogan has lately stepped up criticism of what Turkey calls a growing Greek military buildup on islands close to its coastline as well as Western military support to Greece, with which Ankara has long-running territorial disputes.

The harsher stance may help Mr Erdogan consolidate nationalist votes ahead of next year's elections, but also risks escalating military tensions between the long-time rivals.

"It is unacceptable that Greece receives threats that go as far as questioning Greek sovereignty from a country that is an ally in Nato," Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Tuesday during a meeting in Athens with Slovak President Zuzana Caputova.

The US has increased its access to Greek bases since the two allies updated a mutual defence cooperation agreement in October 2021.

Turkey fears that a growing US military presence and French arms sales to Athens may tip the military balance in favour of Greece.

Over the past month, Mr Erdogan has made several thinly veiled threats of a potential military action to stop militarisation of Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, as warplanes of both countries flew in the contested airspace over the Aegean.

In one recent incident, Turkey accused Greece of locking its air defence radar onto a US-made Turkish F-16 fighter jet.

Turkey vowed to complain to Nato, at a time when the alliance is conducting joint drills in the region in response to threats emanating from Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Greece has repeatedly called on Turkey to stop questioning its sovereignty over the Dodecanese - a group of islands off the Turkish coast including Rhodes and Kos - that were ceded to Greece by Italy following World War II.

Turkey argues that Athens must comply with a 1947 peace treaty that allows only a small contingent of Greek soldiers on the Dodecanese.

"We fully reject neo-Ottoman bullying," Greek Foreign Minister Nikolaos Dendias said on Tuesday after meeting with his French counterpart Catherine Colonna.

"France is always very clear and supportive when it comes to attacks on Greece's sovereignty and that will not change," Ms Colonna said in an interview with Greece's Kathimerini newspaper published on Tuesday.

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