A NEW NATO STRATEGIC POINT IN THE BALKAN AND BLACK SEA AREA
The Greek Private Asset Utilisation Fund (HRADF) will sell a 67% stake in the port of Alexandroupolis in northern Greece, near the border with Turkey and Bulgaria. Two US companies are believed to be interested in the deal.
The entrance to the port of Alexandroupolis has an opening of 155 metres, its minimum depth is 6.5 metres and it has the capacity to receive vessels of up to 200 metres in length. It is protected by two breakwaters, south-west (upwind) and east (downwind). The construction of Alexandroupolis harbour started in the 19th century by French manufacturers who came at the invitation of the then Ottoman authorities. In 1880, the French Ottoman Lighthouse Company built the Lighthouse which still dominates Alexandroupolis harbour and has become the symbol of the town.
The sale of a strategically important port to American companies, along with the availability of the facility to American and NATO troops, raises many questions in Greece. The Mediterranean country remains only one of two countries surveyed in NATO, where the civilian population is not in favour of the alliance and only 36% of Greeks consider the US favourable.
It is worth noting that the signing of a new defence agreement between Athens and Washington in October 2019 gave the Americans the freedom to use the country’s port infrastructure. In fact, the US announced its interests in the port of Alexandroupolis as early as September 2019. Selling ports is extremely risky for reasons of national security and sovereignty. Privatization of ports means deregulation of state ownership and transfer of all functions and transactions to the private sector instead of state security. What would happen if a foreign investor, such as the US, were involved in the management of the ports located in the Aegean Sea, which play an irreplaceable role in Greece’s border and national defence, especially at a time when Turkey is stepping up its rhetorical war against Greece?
The establishment of a US-NATO base in the port of Alexandroupolis aims to provide an energy hub and serve as a pressure point on Russia. In addition to the Greece-Bulgaria Interconnector pipeline and the Trans-Adriatic pipeline in the region of the port, a third pipeline is being prepared. This would turn Thrace, the Alexandroupolis port region, into a real energy hub.
Of course, we must not forget that, in addition to the privatisation of the port of Alexandroupolis, there is a bigger problem with military bases. The port may serve as a vehicle for the imposition of US-NATO interests in the region. The creation of such a base, together with the sale of the port to an American company, creates a situation for other competitors, such as Russia. The port is strategically located close to the Turkish-controlled Dardanelles, which link the Aegean/Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea and therefore Russia. With the acquisition of this port, US-NATO forces could be in many areas of the Balkans within hours and significantly impede Russian trade with the world through the Black Sea by blocking the Dardanelles. Currently, Greece and Turkey are the closest they have been to war since 1974, when the latter invaded northern Cyprus. The Greek government is likely to use the hostilities as justification for opening a US naval base in Alexandroupolis to ensure Greece’s security, despite opposition from most Greeks.
Since security against continued Turkish aggression is the highest priority for Greece at the moment, Washington is trying to capitalize on Turkish aggression against Greece by trying to pivot Athens towards them. Although the Greek side is willing to set up a US naval base in Alexandroupolis, there is strong public resentment against it.
Although the Greek leadership knows that Washington has traditionally appeased Turkey at the expense of Greek security and interests, they are still willing to sacrifice one of their most strategic assets in hopes of stopping Turkish aggression against Greece.
Recently, a member of the Turkish Parliament, a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party, announced Turkey’s future conquest of the islands in the eastern Aegean and the mainland, where the port of Alexandroupolis is located, presenting a map of ‘Greater Turkey’. Under such sustained pressure and hostility from Turkey, Greece believes the US can secure its sovereignty. However, Greeks remember that Washington has appeased Turkey for decades and even gave the green light to the invasion of northern Cyprus in 1974.
The Greeks believe that an American naval base will not protect Greek sovereignty from Turkish aggression, but rather, will be used as an American base to put pressure on Moscow, as they will have the option of blocking Russia in the Black Sea if Turkey does not live up to its NATO responsibilities in any potential war against Russia.
Starting from this new base, NATO plans to build a military fuel pipeline that will run from Alexandroupolis through Bulgaria and most likely end up near the US base Mihail Kogalniceanu in eastern Romania, writes Greek publication Proto Thema, quoted by Rador.
The pipeline will serve Greece as well as Bulgaria and Romania and will be built as part of the measures the Alliance is taking to counter the Russian threat, as its main purpose will be to supply fuel to NATO forces based in the three countries, especially NATO bases in Bulgaria and Romania.
The proposal to build this pipeline was put forward by Bucharest about six months ago, and discussions are already under way, mainly at the level of NATO Permanent Representatives. According to some information, the pipeline will be financed from Alliance funds, which means that there will be no burden on the public budgets of the three countries for its construction.
In addition to increasing the supply capacity of NATO forces in the Balkans, the initiative to build this fuel pipeline is also expected to send a message to Turkey, as it indicates a further trend for the Alliance to become independent from Turkey.
It should be pointed out that the fuel supply to NATO’s large and geostrategically important bases in Bulgaria and Romania is currently mainly supplied by tanks crossing the Bosphorus, which are therefore subject to control and restrictions imposed by the Turkish authorities.
At the same time, the construction of the pipeline is expected to further strengthen the role of Alexandroupolis as a key transit centre for NATO and US forces in the Balkan region. The pipeline is expected to be a bulwark against Turkish aggression on the Evros River borderline, as it is expected to reinforce the need for stability and security in the region and to protect American and NATO interests.
It should also be noted that, in this context, there is the idea of a future extension of the Greek military pipeline from Kavala to Alexandroupoli and then, if necessary, interconnecting it with the NATO military pipeline.
The United States and Greece signed a revised mutual defence cooperation agreement in October that analysts say will enhance Athens’ strategic value and lead to US investment at Greek military bases.
The US armed forces plan to expand the 6th Fleet base on the island of Crete and create drone bases and permanent helicopter training facilities in central Greece.
Perhaps most importantly of all, the US is to set up a new naval and air force base in the Greek city of Alexandroupolis in northeastern Greece to supply NATO allies Bulgaria and Romania. This route bypasses the current Bosphorus route, which is controlled by Turkey.
“Alexandroupolis is a strategic asset because of the port, which is very close to the Balkans and, if needed, can support operations to the Balkans much faster than other ports,” said Efthymios Tsiliopoulos, an analyst for the Greek military news website Defense-point.gr.
Alexandroupoli is also gaining importance as an energy hub. Greece is building offshore gas storage facilities and will soon start construction of a gas pipeline from Alexandroupoli to Bulgaria. This will allow liquefied natural gas deliveries from the US to supply the Balkans, disrupting a Russian monopoly.
Greek-Turkish and US-Turkish tension in the region has come at a sensitive time for Greece’s armed forces. Greece’s defense budget has been cut by almost half during the country’s eight-year financial crisis, and the US investment will create better facilities that the Greek Navy will also use.
There is also an airport in the port area that can be used for drone or helicopter operations. For example, a UAV (operated from Italy this time) has surveyed the area of Ukrainian offshore drilling platforms in the N-V Black Sea, captured by Russia in 2014, subsequently the aircraft flew parallel to the coastline of the Crimean peninsula, Krasnodar County (Russia) and Abkhazia. Special attention is paid to the Russian 7th Military Base in Gudauta (Abkhazia), as well as Russian military bases in South Ossetia (Base 4 – Tkhinvali) and Armenia (Base 102 – Ghiumri).
The flight is usually carried out at an altitude of about 17 000 metres and at a speed of 600 kilometres per hour.
Maritime Security Forum