Turkish warplanes harassed a helicopter carrying Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and the Chief of the Hellenic National Defense General Staff Admiral Evangelos Apostolakis on April 17, 2018, Greek newspaper Ekathimerini reports.
The helicopter was flying from the Greek islet of Ro to Rhodes, another Greek island in the Aegean Sea.
The Turkish jets, which were flying at approximately 10,000 feet, contacted the pilot of the Greek helicopter and asked for flight details. The Hellenic Air Force responded by sending its own jets, which caused the Turkish fighters to veer off and leave.
Ro and Rhodes are two of the hundreds of islands in the Aegean Sea that are controlled by Greece, but they are geographically closer to the Turkish mainland than to Athens. Rhodes is just 29 miles from the Turkish port of Marmaris.
Ro is even closer to the Turkish mainland, and has been the site of territorial disputes in the past. The Hellenic Army does have a presence on the small island, and in early April 2018, they fired tracer rounds at a Turkish helicopter that flew over its airspace.
The episode comes just over a week after a HAF pilot died after his Mirage 2000-5 fighter jet crashed near the island of Skyros. The pilot was returning from intercepting two Turkish Air Force F-16 fighters that had intruded into Greek airspace.
The crash does not appear to be due to the Turkish mission, but made the situation in the region more tense.
Just a few hours before the incident, Tsipras was speaking to a crowd at the island of Kastellorizo, pledging that Greece would defend its principles “in any way it can … and will not cede an inch of territory.”
The speech appeared to reference Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s statement that the Treaty of Lausanne, which recognized the sovereignty of the Republic of Turkey and defined its borders after the Turkish War of Independence, needed to be “updated.”
“Our neighbors do not always behave in a manner befitting good neighbors,” Tsipras said, but added that he was sending Ankara “a message of cooperation and peaceful coexistence, but also of determination.”
Relations between Greece in Turkey have always been turbulent, but recent events make some analysts worried that the two NATO allies may be inching towards a war.
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