Greece will strengthen its armed forces by buying new weapons systems, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced Saturday.
Specifically, Greece will acquire 18 Rafale fighters, a full squadron’s strength, to replacing the aging Mirage 2000 planes; 4 new frigates, while refurbishing 4 existing ones; 4 Romeo naval helicopters; antitank weapons for the Army; torpedoes for the Navy and guided missile for its Air Force. It will also add 15,000 professional soldiers to its armed forces over the next five years, Mitsotakis said.
The new weapons procurement program comes amid heightened tensions with Turkey over resources in the eastern Mediterranean. Its announcement dominated the first half of Mitsotakis’ speech on the grounds of the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF). The trade fair itself has been canceled, due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Mitsotakis delivered the customary speech describing next year’s economic policy.
The extra spending on defense did not prevent Mitsotakis from announcing a new €6.8 billion injection into the economy, in the form of payroll and other tax cuts, subsidies and payments of pension cuts restored by the courts.
“A shift in priorities (toward defense spending) does not mean a change in goals,” Mitsotakis told a restricted audience of just 50, all wearing masks and maintaining social distancing.
“Ankara is now adding to the provocations in the Aegean, the undermining of peace in the entire Mediterreanean,” Mitsotakis said. “It is threatening the eastern borders of Europe, and it is undermining security in a sensitive crossroads of three continents.”
Turkey, which accuses Greece and Cyprus of attempting to infringe on its maritime rights, has been ostensibly conducting search for oil and natural gas in areas also claimed by Greece and Cyprus as part of their exclusive economic zones, although the presence of Turkish Navy vessels nearby actually impedes seismic research. On Friday, Turkey issued a new Navtex, or international maritime safety message, for Sept. 12-Sept. 14 live-fire exercises between its southern coast and northern Cyprus.