France’s proxy war and the emerging Turkish-Russian alliance – Middle East Monitor


Overwhelmed by uncontrollable circumstances, the Greek government is preparing for another financial crisis that promises to be as dire as the last in 2015.Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced on September 12 that Athens had reached a “robust” arms deal that “will strengthen the armed forces” and create a “national shield”.

However, beyond Mitsotakis’ mask of confidence, there is a brewing nightmare that is likely to haunt Greece for years to come. Five years ago, when Athens defaulted on its debt, largely to European countries and institutions, France and Germany rushed to further strangle the humiliated country by selling it even more military equipment.

The story repeats itself; this time around, the crisis involves the country’s continuing dispute with Turkey over territorial waters. Invoking European solidarity, the French once again push their military equipment on a besieged and economically weak Greece. As a result, the latter is preparing to purchase 18 French-made Rafale fighter jets, four naval helicopters, new anti-tank weapons, navy torpedoes and air force missiles.

LIS: East Mediterranean tension boosts arms sales in France

As the Greek government presents the move as a show of force in the event of a future military conflict with neighboring Turkey, French arms will intensify Greece’s vulnerability to French political diktats, now and in the future.

This is part of a larger scheme for France. French President Emmanuel Macron once again assumes the role of savior. Lately, he has taken on the role of rebuilding Beirut devastated following the massive explosion in August. In return, it expects – in fact, demands – political consent from all Lebanese political forces.

The crisis in Greece is different, however. The Turkish-Greek conflict in the eastern Mediterranean is multifaceted because it involves many regional players, all vying for the same price: dividends in the massive deposits of newly discovered natural gas. If the conflict is presented as the continuation of protracted hostilities between Turkey and Greece, in reality the latter is only a small facet of a new big game whose outcome could completely change the dynamics in the Mediterranean.

French President Emmanuel Macron (right) and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis speak following their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris on January 29, 2020 [LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP via Getty Images]

As NATO crumbles at the seam, in part due to the isolationist policies of the current US administration, European countries like France and Italy are acting independently of the once unified Western military alliance.

Europe is losing its once strategically dominant position in the Mediterranean region. After years of investing in the ten-year Libyan conflict, European countries are likely to return home empty-handed.

For years, France supported the east-based forces of Libyan General Khalifa Haftar, while Italy supported the Government of National Accord (GNA) in the west. The two NATO members, who were openly clashing politically, had hoped that the outcome of the Libyan war would provide them with considerable military, political and economic influence.

Nonetheless, the news emerging from the region is clearly to the contrary, in that Turkey and Russia, which only recently claimed Libya, are the ones who now control the fate of that country. Not only are Ankara and Moscow the main power brokers in Libya – Russia backs Haftar, while Istanbul backs the GNA – they are likely to shape Libya’s future as well. During their second round of negotiations in Ankara on September 16, the two countries approved a ceasefire in Libya as part of a political process that should ultimately stabilize the warring country.

LIS: Libya “will communicate with Greece and Malta to negotiate the demarcation of maritime borders”

The irony is that, until fairly recently, there was a discord between Turkey and Russia. The conflict in Syria had reached a point where war in 2015 seemed imminent. This changed as both countries saw an unprecedented opportunity stemming from Washington’s relative absence as a direct actor in the region’s conflicts, coupled with European / NATO disunity and internal conflicts.

Over time, new opportunities arose in Libya and possibly in the Eastern Mediterranean. When France and Italy showed their enthusiasm in an emerging alliance between Israel, Greece and Cyprus around the EastMed gas pipeline project, Turkey rushed to balance that with an alliance of its own. In November 2019, Turkey and the Libyan GNA signed a memorandum of understanding that expanded Turkey’s areas of influence in the Mediterranean and forced France to take up another challenge for its leadership in the region.

Additionally, emboldened Turkey has broadened its search for natural gas in the Mediterranean to cover a vast area stretching from the southern coast of Turkey to the northeast coast of Libya. With NATO unable to present a unified front, France has moved forward alone, hoping to maintain a geopolitical status quo that has governed the Mediterranean for decades.

This status quo is no longer sustainable as a new political contract will certainly be drawn up, especially as the nature of the Turkish-Russian alliance becomes clearer and promises to be lasting.

Mutual interests between Turkey and Russia will likely result in a real alliance if their ongoing negotiations pay lasting dividends. On the other side of this possible coalition, there are reluctant and broken European powers, led by interested France, whose strategic vision suffered a severe blow in Libya as in Syria years earlier.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is now leading Russian diplomacy to find a non-military solution to the Turkish-Greek conflict. This, in itself, is an indication of the growing prowess of Russia in a region which, until very recently, was dominated solely by NATO.

LIS: NATO chief and Greek prime minister discuss Eastern Mediterranean

The opinions expressed in this article are the property of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.


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