Greek and Turkish leaders seek common ground on Ukraine war

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Istanbul (AFP) – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis held talks in Istanbul on Sunday, seeking rapprochement between neighboring NATO members amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The meeting came as Ankara seeks to bolster its credentials as a regional power by acting as a mediator in the conflict.

On Thursday, the Turkish resort town of Antalya hosted the first talks between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba since the start of the Russian invasion.

They failed to negotiate a ceasefire.

Turkish and Greek leaders met on Sunday, aware that the emerging conflict in Ukraine weighs more heavily than long-standing tensions between Athens and Ankara.

“The meeting focused on the benefits of increased cooperation between the two countries” in view of “the evolution of the European security architecture”, the Turkish Presidency said in a statement after the meeting. two o’clock.

“Despite the disagreements between Turkey and Greece, it was agreed (…) to keep communication channels open and to improve bilateral relations,” the statement added, indicating that the two leaders discussed the conflict in Ukraine and their disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean.

“From the perspective of both countries, having a potentially new crisis between them would certainly be very undesirable at this particular time,” Sinan Ulgen, president of the Istanbul Center for Economic Studies and Foreign Policy, told AFP.

‘The world changes’

Aegean neighbors and NATO allies have entered a dangerous standoff in 2020 over hydrocarbon resources and naval influence in the waters off their coasts.

Mitsotakis then unveiled Greece’s most ambitious arms purchase program in decades and signed a defense deal with France, much to Turkey’s dismay.

Senior Turkish officials continue to question Greek sovereignty over parts of the Aegean, but last year Ankara resumed bilateral talks with Athens.

“Obviously, Turkey is pursuing a very clear wave of normalization with its regional rivals, after several years of having had a kind of very assertive foreign policy and being regionally isolated,” said European Council member Asli Aydintasbas. foreign relations.

“I think Turkish and Greek leaders understand that the world is changing and that the European security order is being challenged in ways they would not have imagined three months ago,” she said. added.

This week, the Israeli president also visited Ankara after more than a decade of diplomatic rupture.

Antonia Zervaki, assistant professor of international relations at the University of Athens, said Sunday’s meeting in Istanbul would be an opportunity to “bring the two countries together” after a difficult period in relations.

“Measured” expectations

Ahead of his trip to Turkey, Mitsotakis said he was going there in a “productive mood” and with “measured” expectations.

Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis Yasin AKGULAFP

“As partners of NATO, we are called upon (…) to try to keep our region away from any new geopolitical crisis”, he declared during a council of ministers on Wednesday.

Alongside its European partners, Athens strongly condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, calling it a “revisionist” attack and a “flagrant violation of international law”.

Before lunch, Mitsotakis attended a celebration at St. George’s Orthodox Cathedral, Turkey’s largest, in Istanbul.

The Greek government spokesman said this week that Mitsotakis was already due to visit Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on Sunday and had been invited to lunch by Erdogan at the presidential mansion on the banks of the Bosphorus.

Barthélemy, who called himself “a target for Moscow”, called during the mass for an “immediate ceasefire on all fronts” in Ukraine.

In 2018, the patriarch recognized an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church, a blow to Moscow’s spiritual authority in the Orthodox world.

On Sunday, he praised the “vigorous resistance” of Ukrainians and “the courageous reaction of Russian citizens”.