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Greece says Turkish overflights in the Aegean undermine NATO unity

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Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called on Turkey on Thursday to stop violating Greek airspace with fighter jets, a behaviour which he said undermines the unity of NATO at a crucial time following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A day earlier, the Greek foreign ministry protested to the Turkish Ambassador in Athens over a series of Turkish overflights in the Aegean Sea, saying they were unlawful and an “unacceptable provocation”.

Mitsotakis said he had informed NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on the issue.

“I made it clear to the Secretary General that this type of behaviour by a NATO ally… is unacceptable,” Mitsotakis said.

“It undermines European security as well as the unity of NATO at a time when amongst NATO members it is indispensable for all of us to remain united as we face the continued aggression of Russia in Ukraine.”

Turkish officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, Ankara has long argued that Greek claims over its air space are maximalistic and has proposed opening the issue to discussion in bilateral talks.

A government spokesman said earlier that following the overflights the environment was not good for an expected round of confidence-building talks between the two countries.

Greece and Turkey, NATO allies, came to the brink of war in 1996 over a deserted Aegean islet. Bilateral ties have improved over the years despite occasional tension, most recently over energy resources in the Mediterranean.

The two countries are still at odds over issues such as competing claims over their respective continental shelves, maritime rights and air space, ethnically split Cyprus, and the status of some islands in the Aegean.

Mitsotakis, who met Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan last month, said that Turkey’s recent stance on overflights undermines the progress made in that meeting and they need to “stop immediately.”

Turkey, he added, has not aligned with any sanctions taken by the EU. “This is not the typical behaviour of a country aspiring to join the EU family,” he said during joint statements with Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin in Athens.

Russia’s invasion, which it calls a “special operation”, has caused Finland and Sweden to reassess their longstanding military neutrality, and they are expected to announce in May whether they will join the U.S.-led NATO alliance.

“Greece will respect the sovereign decision of the Finnish people,” Mitsotakis said.

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Reuters News Service