Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday accused Greece of carrying out a “covert occupation” of the islands of the eastern Aegean amid escalating tensions between the NATO allies.
The Turkish leader’s remarks followed statements by Geek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who accused Turkey of using “lies and threats,” a path he said Athens will not follow.
Turkey on Monday summoned the Greek ambassador to protest what it is calling the deployment of dozens of U.S.-made armoured vehicles to the Greek Aegean islands of Samos and Lesbos, which Ankara maintains should remain demilitarized in line with international treaties. Ankara also issued a diplomatic noted to the United States on the matter.
Over the weekend, Turkish state-run media published aerial images they claimed showed the deployment of armoured vehicles the islands, increasing tensions between the two countries that have been at odds for decades over a string of issues, including maritime boundaries.
“The weapons piled up in Western Thrace and on the islands make no sense to us because our strength far exceeds theirs, but we remind you that this means a covert occupation,” Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency cited Erdoğan as saying during a meeting with his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) provincial leaders in capital Ankara.
“Greece is not our equal in any way. Greek leaders will pay for this,’’ he added.
Earlier on Tuesday, Mitsotakis said that Turkey was up against “not just Greece but all of Europe and our allies in NATO,” according to the Greek Reporter.
Greece will remain calm, confident in positions backed by international law, and not follow down the path chosen by Turkey, he said, adding that the country had expressed itself clearly at the U.N. General Assembly regarding its “red lines” and its friendly intentions toward the Turkish people.
Mitsokis at the U.N.G.A in New York on Friday accused Turkey’s leadership of undermining peace and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean region at time of war, but addressed Turkish people saying that Greece was not a threat to their country, Reuters reported.
Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department on Monday that statements that could increase tensions between NATO Allies were not particularly helpful amid Russia’s invasion of sovereign European state Ukraine.
“We are encouraging our NATO allies to resolve any disagreements they may have diplomatically. We think we should remain focused on what is a collective threat to all of us, and that’s Russia’s aggression,” state-run Anadolu news agency cited State Department spokesperson Ned Price as telling reporters.