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Can Russia benefit from Turkey-Greece spat?

In light of the conflict in the eastern Mediterranean between Turkey and Greece, Russia may be looking to strengthen its ties with Greece in order to further its interests in the region.
A picture shows a Russian cruise missile launching from a submarine at an undisclosed location in the Mediterranean Sea on September 14, 2017. - The Russian Defence Ministry launched cruise missiles from submarines in the Mediterranean aimed at Islamic State targets in eastern Syria. (Photo by Maria Antonova. / AFP) (Photo by MARIA ANTONOVA./AFP via Getty Images)
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Russian arms exports it seems are fast becoming a tool in the intimidation tactics employed by both sides of the Turkey-Greece spat. This, at least, is the conclusion one can draw from reading Greek media reports over the last few weeks. The two Mediterranean foes, which had both been accused of breaking with NATO solidarity by purchasing Russian arms, are resorting to war threats in a dispute over the eastern Mediterranean territories. Meanwhile, the Greeks enjoy the backing of not just Cyprus — through which the Russian S-300 were at one point suppled to Greece — but also by France, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Russia must feel flattered it can have at least an indirect influence on the Turkey-Greece confrontation. That said, it is unlikely that Moscow will end up providing its resolute support to either one camp or putting much efforts into resolving the dispute. Indeed, the current tensions play in the Kremlin’s hands.

In mid-September, reports began to appear in Greek media suggesting the government is holding negotiations with Moscow regarding the upgrade of the Russian-made S-300PMU-1 into the S-300PMU-2 Favorit version. These days, the Greek press also writes that Athens may be ready to hold its first exercises in 15 years with the S-300s on the island of Crete. Even though the officials have not yet confirmed those rumors, the fact that those reports came out just as the dispute with Turkey was getting hotter implies that the leak might have come from the officials seeking to send a signal to Ankara. Ostensibly, the reason for holding exercises is the threat of expansion of Turkey’s oil and gas prospection in the eastern Mediterranean. This expansion is part of the Mavi Vatan (Blue Motherland) doctrine claiming Turkeys’ sovereignty in the Aegean, Mediterranean and Black seas, even though a key architect of the doctrine — Rear Adm. Cihat Yayci — had recently lost his position. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently provided an update on the estimated reserves in a gas field off its Black Sea coast, claiming it reached 405 billion cubic meters. Yet Ankara also claimed that the Mediterranean Sea, too, may contain larger reserves than believed. In reality, however, Greek exercises may well be a response to Turkey’s recent exercises with the S-400.

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