‘They know how it’s done’: Turkey violated Greek airspace 2,244 times in 2014 alone

FILE PHOTO: A Greek Air Force officer operates the radar of a Patriot air defence missiles at Tatoi air base, north of Athens © Yiorgos Karahalis
Turkish claims that the downed Russian Su-24 jet “violated” its airspace have sparked outrage among Greeks, who took to social media to say it is a clear-cut case of double standards as Turkish jets breached Greek airspace 2,244 times in 2014 alone.

They wondered what would happen if Greece had authorized engagement of Turkish aircraft, which breach the country’s borders on a regular basis.

On Wednesday, the Protothema newspaper released the numbers of breaches saying the Turkish Air Force is usually reluctant to share any details when it comes to such violations.

The newspaper quoted University of Thessaly statistics based on the Greek military’s count - there were 2,244 violations in 2014, an increase from 636 in 2013.

“The Turks are trying to enforce sovereignty over disputed islands and bring Greece to the negotiating table,” Thanos Dokos,  the director general of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, told the Politico news website in July. “What’s worrying are the low-altitude flights, often by helicopters, over these islands.”

Turkey fails to respect the 10-mile airspace surrounding the Aegean Islands, which causes numerous dogfights between Greek and Turkish aircraft invading the area. From January to October 2015, the country’s airspace was violated 1,233 times including 31 flights over Greek territory itself, according to the Greek Air Force’s headquarters. Greek media noted the Turks are taking advantage of the country’s economic hardships.

“In the case of air incursions, you have to react,” Thanos Dokos said. “It’s very hard to unilaterally pull back from a situation of military aggression. It’s a tragic situation, because the money we’re spending on dogfights with Turkey is money that we could have spent on other areas of defense.”

Media attention has also focused on Turkish naval vessels repeatedly breaching national maritime borders. Over just seven months – from January to July 2015 – the Turkish Navy made 175 incursions into Greek maritime waters. In June, the Turkish Navy ship, the Gelibolu, repeatedly went on “patrol” in Greek territorial waters, a move that angered many in Greece.

Earlier on Wednesday, Greek Foreign Minister Nikas Kotzias expressed solidarity with Russia in a phone conversation with Russian FM Sergei Lavrov. The Russian Foreign Ministry said: “Athens agrees with the Russian president’s assessment on Ankara’s hostile actions, which are contrary to the goals of the anti-ISIS coalition,” RIA Novosti reports.

Greece, according to its Foreign Ministry, “especially comprehends provocative moves by Turkey given regular multiple violations of Greek air space by Ankara lasting for years.”

Both Turkey and Greece are NATO members, and each country claims a six- nautical-mile zone of the Aegean Sea. Many of the incidents take place within the disputed four-mile radius near the Turkish coast, which Athens considers its territory and Ankara calls international waters. Greece claims 10 miles of air space around the islands, while Turkey recognizes only six miles and argues that its fighters are flying in international airspace.

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