ATHENS: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis are to hold talks in Istanbul on Sunday, a meeting analysts say will focus on coordination as war continues in Ukraine.
The meeting comes as Ankara seeks to shore up its credentials as a regional power player by mediating in the conflict.
On Thursday, the Turkish resort city of Antalya hosted the first talks between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba since the start of Russia’s invasion.
They failed to broker a ceasefire.
Now Mitsotakis will see Erdogan, mindful that the burgeoning conflict in Ukraine looms larger than the long-standing tensions between Athens and Ankara.
“From the standpoint of both countries, having a potentially new crisis between them would certainly be very unwanted at this particular point in time,” Sinan Ulgen, president of the Centre for Economic and Political Studies in Istanbul, told AFP.“
“So what they will seek to do is really try to avert the emergence of such a scenario,” he said.
The Greek government spokesman this week said Mitsotakis was already due to visit the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on Sunday and had been invited to lunch by Erdogan at the presidential mansion on the banks of the Bosphorus.
Antonia Zervaki, assistant professor of international relations at the University of Athens, says the meeting will provide an opportunity to “bring the two countries closer together” after a fraught period in relations.
The Aegean Sea neighbours and NATO allies entered a dangerous stand-off in 2020 over hydrocarbon resources and naval influence in the waters off their coasts.
Mitsotakis then unveiled Greece’s most ambitious arms purchase programme in decades and signed a defence agreement with France, to Turkey’s consternation.
Senior Turkish officials continue to question Greek sovereignty over parts of the Aegean Sea, but last year, Ankara resumed bilateral talks with Athens.
“Obviously, Turkey is pursuing a very clear wave of normalisation with regional rivals, after several years of having pursued a sort of very assertive foreign policy and being regionally isolated,” said Asli Aydintasbas, a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).
“I think that both Turkish and Greek leaders understand that the world is changing and the European security order is challenged in ways they have not imagined three months ago,” he added.
This week, the Israeli president also visited Ankara after more than a decade of diplomatic rupture.
Mitsotakis has said he was heading to Turkey in a “productive mood” and with “measured” expectations.
“As partners in NATO, we are called upon …to try to keep our region away from any additional geopolitical crisis,” he told a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
Alongside its European partners, Athens strongly condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, calling it a “revisionist” attack and “flagrant violation of international law”.
“I think what will emerge is really an understanding that both sides should shy away from provocative actions that could lead to an escalation, so that will be the main objective here,” Ulgen said.