Greece's Defense Minister Panos Kammenos visited the United States on October 9 to make two proposals that would change a lot if accepted: a new Balkans military alliance and substantial expanding of US military presence in the country. The latter includes setting up three military bases in Larissa, in Volos, in Alexandroupolis on a more permanent basis. The regional defense alliance, formed to diminish “Russia’s influence”, is to comprise Greece, Macedonia (FYROM), Albania, Bulgaria, and later Serbia. “I want to affirm that Greece considers the United States a strategic partner and ally…the only one, I dare to say,” he said during the meeting with US Defense Secretary James Mattis. “It is very important for Greece that the United States deploy military assets in Greece on a more permanent basis, not only in Souda Bay but also in Larissa, in Volos, in Alexandropoulis,” he added.
In the spring of 2018, the US began operating MQ-9 Reaper drones out of Greece’s Larisa Air Force Base. The American-Greek defense cooperation agenda includes the extension of the agreement for the use of the US naval base in Souda Bay, Crete, the upgrading of the Greek fleet of F-16 military jets and the plans to build a second military base in southern Crete. The United States and Greece are reportedly discussing the creation of a military base on the island of Karpathos in the South Aegean Sea, between Rhodes and Crete. According to the plans, the island will host US Patriot air defense missile systems and F-22 Raptor fighters. US F-35 will be stationed in Volos, F-16 in Andravia, while F-15 are already in Souda airbase in Crete.
As the relationship with Turkey continues to deteriorate, Greece acquires a more significant military role for the United States in the Mediterranean as well as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The Wall Street Journal reported last month, “the US military is in talks to expand its operations in Greece, including using more air and naval bases here, signaling a potential move toward the eastern Mediterranean amid growing tensions with Turkey.” According to the source, US officials who had visited Greece not long before the publication said both the government and the opposition were receptive to strengthening military ties. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, believes that the “geography of Greece and the opportunities here are pretty significant.”
A military alliance of Greek Cyprus, Israel and Greece, Eastern Mediterranean Alliance (EMA), has actually been formed. Greece and Israel have a military cooperation agreement in place since 2015. The military ties between Cyprus and Israel are also expanding. After a trilateral conference held in Larnaca in June, defense chiefs of the three countries pledged to expand cooperation on cyber-security, joint military drills and search and rescue operations in the eastern Mediterranean. The three also visited the US together in May. Last month, the United States opened its first permanent military facility in Israel.
The US has recently changed its Syria policy, including the support of the Kurds that angers Turkey so much. With the tariffs and sanctions war unleashed by Washington against Ankara, it appears to have nothing to lose. The United States is considering permanent cuts to its military presence in Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey, a strategic point for its military operations in Syria. This possibility is very real as several pro-government Turkish lawyers have reportedly filed charges against US Air Force officers associated with the base, alleging they are connected to those who staged the attempted coup d'état against Turkey’s government in 2016.
Greece wants Alexandroupolis to become a hub for the gas being exported from Israel via Cyprus, Crete and Greece to Italy. The route will bypass Turkey, which is adamant in its desire to prevent such a scenario. It says part of the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus is under Turkish jurisdiction. A conflict is possible and the EMA partners want the US to be on their side. America needs the allies too as it strives to increase its clout in the Middle East. Libya is among the countries it wants to control, while rolling Russia back. The United States needs military support, especially bases, as it has decided to stay in Syria “until Iran withdraws its forces”. The growing military cooperation between the EMA alliance and the US reflects nothing else but war preparations.
In summer, Greece expelled two Russian diplomats accused of attempting to instil opposition to the agreement in order to prevent Macedonia’s NATO membership. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov subsequently canceled a planned visit to Athens. All these trends and events create certain background before the visit of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to Russia scheduled on Dec. 7 (it had been previously planned for Dec.12). The two countries have always been friends and close partners but the announced plans to turn Greece into a US aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean is a matter of concern and not only for Moscow.