Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was among the first foreign leaders to congratulate Joe Biden after he was projected to become the next U.S. president. Greece views the pending change of guard at the White House as pivotal to easing turbulent relations with Turkey.
Many analysts, though, warn Athens should take a more cautious approach.
Mitsotakis sent a congratulatory message within minutes after Biden was projected to win the presidential election.
Mitsotakis called Biden a true friend and voiced certainty that his presidency would help forge stronger ties between the U.S. and Greece.
Analysts say that is diplomatic shorthand for an end to the close personal connection Donald Trump had developed with Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan over several years.
Sotiris Servos, a professor of international relations in northern Greece, explains.
With this election, Erdogan loses Trump’s ear and the direct access he had to the Oval Office, Servos says. Biden may not be an unknown force to him, but it’s unlikely, Servos says, that Erdogan will try and test the limits of this new relationship early on.
For Greece, embroiled in a long-running and increasingly dangerous standoff with Turkey over energy rights in the eastern Mediterranean, that anticipated hiatus may buy crucial time in helping ease tensions between the rival neighbors.
But with Biden expected to toughen relations with Russia, experts in Athens anticipate this could yield even greater support from Washington, especially after Turkey, a key NATO ally, purchased an S-400 missile defense system from Moscow over U.S. objections. Turkey signed a deal to buy the system in 2017 and began taking delivery of it in 2019. A few days prior to the U.S. election, Turkey tested the system, further angering the United States.
Ankara has dismissed Washington’s concerns that the S-400 system could compromise NATO’s military systems and said the weapons are the most cost-effective solution for Turkey’s defense needs.
According to Servos, if there is one foreign policy issue Biden has been very clear about, it is Russia. How these dynamics will play out, will no doubt impact developments in the eastern Mediterranean, he explained.
In a policy chapter dubbed “Joe Biden’s vision for Greek Americans and U.S.-Greece Relations,” Biden promised ahead of the elections to call out Turkish aggression in its long-standing disputes with Greece over sea and air rights. While both NATO allies, the two countries came to the brink of war in September, forcing the U.S. to intervene and urge Erdogan to recall a survey vessel from a drilling expedition off the coast of a Greek island.
Still, critics like Panos Panagiotopoulos, a leading foreign policy analyst and former lawmaker, advise caution.
Of course, Biden’s election spells positive news for Greece, he said, as Biden is no newcomer and knows the issues and problems of this region.
But at the same time, Panagiotopoulos said, “We have to remain realists and Greeks should not froth up to expectations that Biden will cast Turkey to the side for our sake alone.” He also said the best Greeks can hope for is a different state of play and balance of relations in the region.
Whether that will play out remains to be seen.
But until then, Greece says it will not ease up on its defenses in the eastern Mediterranean, keeping ships and submarines in the region and being mindful of Ankara’s moves until Biden takes office early next year.