Greece has agreed to buy three state-of-the-art warships from France, to boost its military capabilities after a decade-long economic downturn, which alone has cut its defense spending by nearly one-half. The deal boosts Greece’s military capabilities, but critics fear it could create further tension between Greece and longtime foe Turkey, both NATO members.
The $5 billion deal would provide Athens with three Belharra frigates and three Govind corvettes, with an option for one of each.
Officials say the first ships will be delivered in early 2024 and the rest will be shipped to Greece two years later.
Vice Admiral Stelios Fenekos explains the importance of French frigates.
He says these are state-of-the-art ships that provide support for a whole host of activities, from submarines and drones to missile launches.
The frigates have the capability to monitor 800 key locations and act and respond rapidly.
With the Greek navy joining in, entire stretches of the country’s water borders, from the northern tip of the Aegean to Cyprus to the south – will be closely shielded, Fenekos says.
The deal complements another lucrative deal that 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 struggled for years with the Aegean waterway dividing the two countries and Athens in the eastern Mediterranean, the latest weapons purchase is a game-changer at its cost.
“These deals significantly advance Greece’s military capabilities, putting them 10-15 years ahead of Turkey,” explains George Philis, professor of geopolitics in Athens. “And with Turkey facing an arms embargo from countries like the United States, the possibilities of enhancing its capabilities are limited,” he said. “Turkey is clearly in a bind.”
Greece and Turkey have been fighting for air and sea rights in the Aegean for ages. Last year, the two countries came to the brink of war over competing claims for drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
France sided with Greece’s rights, angering President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by sending warships to the region to challenge Turkey.
Under the new deal, France would come to Greece for military aid if requested and in danger. Similarly, Greece will assist France in military operations in sub-Saharan regions in which France has vested interests.
With renewed tensions between Greece and Turkey rising, Phyllis says he fears the latest deal could only aggravate strained ties.
“There is no doubt that this deal is a major game-changer in the region and Turkey can move forward to test the limits and reflections of this new strategic alliance,” he says. “There must be caution.”