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The Greece-Turkey Rift Widens

Walter Russell Mead

Turkey is none too pleased about Greece’s refusal to extradite two Turkish soldiers involved in last year’s coup, warning that the dispute will poison relations elsewhere. From Hurriyet Daily:

[T]he Turkish Foreign Ministry stated on May 4 that the country was once again disappointed by a decision that it said was taken with “political motives.”

“We cannot see the support and cooperation we should be provided with by our allies in the anti-terror and anti-crime struggle,” the ministry said, adding that the ruling amounted to “protecting the coup soldiers.”

It also noted that the ruling would “inevitably affect bilateral relations,” as well as common work on regional issues.

The explosive Greek-Turkish relationship has always been a major source of stress in NATO. Ever since the U.S. proclaimed the Truman Doctrine as a way of protecting both countries from the Soviet Union, keeping the peace between these two NATO allies has been one of the toughest task American diplomats faced. The uneasy alliance has been punctuated by periodic flare-ups: in 1955 a pogrom against Greeks in Istanbul led to a mass exodus of ethnic Greeks from Turkey, in 1974 a Greek attempt to annex Cyprus was foiled by a Turkish invasion of the island, and as recently as 1996 the two sides almost came to an armed standoff over disputed islets in the Aegean Sea.

These days, with both Greece and Turkey alienated from the EU, and Russia once again playing a major role in the eastern Mediterranean, the old volcano is starting to smoke again. It helps both Ankara and Athens to posture and pose: the Greeks need some inspiring nationalist theater as they stagger under a load of debt and bad governance, and Erdogan is always looking for ways to stand up for Turkey against foreign rivals.

The dispute probably won’t escalate too badly; neither country benefits from a full-scale crisis over the fate of a few fugitive soldiers. But it is one more sign that the rift between Turkey and Europe is getting deeper and wider—and that is hardly good news for the West.

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