Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis flies to Washington for talks with President Joe Biden on Monday, their first since the U.S. leader entered office. Mitsotakis is expected to discuss Turkey and efforts to ease brewing tensions between the two countries and NATO allies. But as the conflict in Ukraine rages, talks will also focus on efforts to turn Greece into an EU energy gateway, easing reliance on Russian gas and oil.
The timing of Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ visit to Washington is crucial, Greek officials say.
Relations between Turkey and Greece are strained, and Mitsotakis will lose no time, his aides say, in citing what they call “repeated provocations” that Turkey has been waging in recent weeks… ordering warplanes to conduct a record number of dangerous overflights through Greek airspace – violations that could spark conflict between the two sides and greater instability to Europe’s already troubled landscape.
But rather than just complain, Greek administration officials, like Kostis Hadzidakis, say Mitsotakis has some offerings of interest to the U.S.
“We don’t want to go there whining, complaining and begging for action in our favor,” he says. “We want to showcase Greece as a credible and reliable ally,” he said.
On the defense front, Mitsotakis plans to pitch Greek assistance in building F-35 warplanes — a project that its rival neighbor, Turkey, was once part of. However, in 2019, Ankara was ousted after agreeing to purchase from Moscow a Russian surface-to-air missile system — a serious breach of NATO rules.
With Tukey also raising objections to Finland and Sweden joining NATO, that incentive, say experts in Athens, could prove appealing for U.S. interests.
It remains unclear, though, whether it will move forward.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will be in Washington a day after Mitsotakis, and as the Greek leader will be addressing Congress for the first time, the Turkish official will be meeting with his U.S. counterpart to work out details of Ankara’s bid to purchase 40 new F-16 aircraft.
On Sunday, the eve of Mitsotakis’ White House meeting, the Biden administration asked Congress to approve the sale of weapons and equipment upgrades to Turkey’s fleet of American-made F-16 fighter jets, a sign of thawing relations between the NATO allies as the Russian war in Ukraine drags on.
The development leaves Greece to play the energy card, experts here say, appealing to U.S. interests in a climate of what diplomats like George Koumoutsakos call rapidly changing geopolitics as the conflict in Ukraine continues.
“Everything is changing in our region,” Koumoutsakos said. “A new balance of powers will clearly emerge with the end of the conflict in Ukraine. And the question is where Greece wants to be: on the side of the powerful and with an upgraded in the greater region?”
In a lucrative project, Greece plans to finish building a pipeline to Bulgaria that will end Russia’s gas monopoly there and for the rest of southeast Europe.
The importance of the so-called Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria, or the IGB, is that it could soon become a key conduit supplanting Russian gas throughout the Balkans, with liquefied natural gas, known as LNG, from the U.S., Qatar, Egypt and elsewhere.
Floating storage facilities for LNG are also being built in the northern Greek region of Alexandroupolis, potentially giving Greece the opportunity to turn the country into a key gateway of LNG to southeast Europe and beyond.
Once complete, the energy project could reduce reliance on Russian energy and designs by Russian President Vladimir Putin – to use energy in what analysts call a “risky geopolitical game.”