Lack of Fuel Leaves Greek Military Helpless in Face of Turkish Aggression

Greece can no longer defend itself against Turkish military aggression because its financial woes are crippling its armed forces.

Speaking exclusively to Newsweek, Prof Costas Koliopoulos, a military expert at Panteion University in Athens says: "Turkey is the reason we have very large armed forces. And now Turkey is sensing a shift in the balance of power. Their increased activities in the Aegean are an attempt to wear us out."

Relations between Turkey and Greece have been tense for decades, thanks to the division of Cyprus and the ongoing dispute over the sovereignty of the Aegean Sea area, which separates the two countries. Every year, Greece reports hundreds of incursions by Turkey's navy and airforce into its territory, arguing that they are forced to scramble jets or send out naval ships to intercept them.

Of the 31 days of March, only 10 didn't feature uninvited Turkish planes entering Greek airspace. On 20 March, 12 Turkish fighter planes violated Greek airspace no less than 38 times. "Two engagements ensued with the Hellenic Air Force interception fighters," says the Hellenic General National Defence General Staff's report.

Figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) show that last year Greece spent €4bn on defence, 2.5% of the country's GDP. Compared with other European countries that's a very high figure. "Greece has signed several very large deals in the past years, including one for €1.7bn for German Leopard panzers," explains Sam Perlo-Freeman, head of SIPRI's Military Expenditure project. "One can ask how necessary those purchases really were." Koliopoulos, who maintains close links to the military, says that while the government cuts impacted on the armed forces' morale, the biggest problem is the armed forces ability to acquire fuel.

Turkey knows that if it keeps crossing into Greek airspace and entering Greek territorial waters, Greece has to respond. But without fuel or properly maintained equipment, Greece won't be able to frighten its Nato ally away.

Greece could reduce its military manpower but "dismissing large numbers of military-trained men in a country with 50% youth unemployment might not be a good idea," says Perlo-Freeman. The government is also keen to keep the military on its good side.

"You'd be very hard-pressed to find one senior officer favourable to Syriza, but they are comfortable with [Right-wing defence minister Panos] Kammenos," says Koliopoulos. That's the same Kammenos who after taking office in January flew over a group of Turkish – Greece considers them Greek – islets, causing Turkish fighter planes to scramble.