ATHENS — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz urged Turkey on Thursday to stop threats against Greece in a dispute over islands in the eastern Mediterranean, calling on both sides to solve their differences through international law.
“It should not be the case that NATO partners question each other’s sovereignty,” Scholz said at a press conference with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in the Greek capital, referring to the fact that both Greece and its eastern neighbor Turkey are members of the military alliance.
“All issues must be resolved on the basis of international law,” the chancellor said, adding with a nod to Mitsotakis that “we agree very much on that.”
Turkey questioned Greece’s sovereignty over numerous inhabited and uninhabited Greek islands in the eastern Mediterranean after Athens stationed troops on the islands. Greece justified the move by citing Turkey’s increased military presence along the Turkish west coast.
In recent weeks, tensions between Athens and Ankara reached a critical level with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan issuing direct threats against Greek troops on those islands, saying: “We might suddenly come one night.”
Scholz’s rebuke of Turkey, however, was less explicit than the one his foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, gave Turkey during a regional visit in July — drawing Ankara’s ire.
Scholz suggested Germany could serve as a “helpful” mediator in the standoff. And his repeated insistence on upholding international law could be read as a request for Athens to withdraw Greek troops from the islands, which previous agreements said should remain demilitarized.
“The Mediterranean is an area full of potential, especially economically, and it should be in the interest of all neighbors to take full advantage of this opportunity for the benefit of their respective populations,” Scholz said. “In my conversation [with Mitsotakis], I got the impression that Greece is very willing to do so, and we can and should trust in this.”
Mitsotakis said at the press conference that Greek troops on the islands were “no threat” to Turkey, and added: “It is a pity that Erdogan does not see and understand that he is pursuing a futile path when he constantly utters lies about Greece.”
“History cannot be changed with imperial illusions or geography with falsified maps,” the Greek leader continued, saying that he had received “very clear” support from Scholz when it comes to the issue that one NATO ally cannot question the others’ borders.
Mitsotakis also said 40 German “Marder” infantry fighting vehicles — which Athens is receiving from Berlin in exchange for the Soviet-era tanks sent to Ukraine — will be stationed in Northern Greece, next to the Turkish border. The departing tanks will be pulled from the Aegean islands.
Mitsotakis said the placement will better protect the country. Scholz declined to comment on the changing posture.
“Greece is a very reliable partner,” so it would be “strange” for him to comment on where the tanks should be stationed, he said.