Greece has agreed to buy three state-of-the-art warships from France, boosting its military capabilities after a decade-long economic recession that cut its defense spending alone by nearly one-half. The deal boosts Greece’s military capabilities but critics fear it may stoke further tensions between Greece and age-old foe Turkey, both of them NATO members.
The $5 billion deal will provide Athens with three Belharra frigates and three Gowind corvettes, with an option for one more of each.
Officials say the first vessels will be delivered as early as 2024 with the remainder shipped to Greece two years later.
Vice Admiral Stelios Fenekos explains the importance of the French frigates.
He says these are state-of-the-art ships that provide support for a whole host of activities, from minding submarines and drones to firing missiles.
The frigates have the capability to oversee 800 key locations and act and react swiftly.
With their addition to the Greek Navy, the entire stretch of the country’s water frontiers, from the northern tip of the Aegean to as far south as Cyprus — will be shielded closely, Fenekos says.
The deal complements another lucrative agreement Greece announced last year to buy at least 18 fourth generation Rafale fighter jets for $2.5 billion. These defense contracts have helped seal a strategic defense strategy between Greece and France.
The Turkish government, for its part, says the deal violates international law.
For Ankara, which has been at odds with Athens for years over the Aegean waterway that divides the two countries, and the eastern Mediterranean, the latest arms purchase is a game-changer at its expense.
"These deals advance Greece’s military capabilities significantly, putting them 10-15 years ahead of Turkey," explains George Fillis, a professor of geopolitics in Athens. "And with Turkey facing arms embargoes from countries like the United States, the prospect of boosting its own capabilities is limited," he said. "Turkey is clearly in a bind."
Greece and Turkey have been at odds over air and sea rights in the Aegean for ages. Last year, the two countries came to the brink of war over competing claims to drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
France sided with Greece’s rights, sending warships to the region to challenge Turkey in a move that enraged President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Under the new deal, France will come to Greece’s military aid if requested and under threat. Likewise, Greece will aid France in military operations in sub-Saharan territories France has vested interests in.
With tensions brewing anew between Greece and Turkey, Fillis says he fears the latest deal may only aggravate tense relations.
"There is no doubt that this deal is a major game-changer in the region and Turkey may move to test the limits and reflexes of this new strategic alliance," he says. "There has to be vigilance."