Greek Defense Minister Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos, pictured Wednesday at the Helennic Parliament, is expected to announce a major arms deal with France on Saturday. Photo courtesy of Greek Ministry of Defense
Sept. 11 (UPI) -- Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis will unveil a defense program on Saturday with heavy emphasis on dealing with alleged provocations by Turkey.
He is expected to announce the acquisition of 18 new and old variant Rafale fighter planes from France, and, although the French Navy denies it, media reports in France suggest that Greece will lease two state-of-the-art Navy frigates.
France and Greece have had a formal defense cooperation agreement since February, concentrating on matters in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. A similar agreement between France and the island republic of Cyprus took effect in August.
Turkey is challenging security in the region through oil and gas exploration in the contested Aegean Sea, and Greece and Turkey have each deployed naval and air forces to assert competing claims.
"The Turkish leadership is unleashing, on a near-daily basis, threats of war and makes provocative statements against Greece," Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said earlier this week. "We respond with political, diplomatic and operational readiness, determined to do whatever is necessary to protect our sovereign rights."
Turkey's recent actions have caused concern among its neighbors, as well as from NATO. It has crossed into Greek airspace, disobeyed arms sanctions against Libya, purchased the Russian-made S-400 air defense system and established an authoritarian government under the 17-year rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
France, Greece and Turkey are NATO members, and pledged to each other's security. Cyprus is not.
Greece's enthusiasm for French-built aircraft comes after France's involvement in the long-simmering Greek-Turkish standoff. French Air Force Rafale fighter jets arrived on Crete, a Greek island, for joint training with Greek F-16s In August.
The French Ministry of Defense described the deployment as a "temporarily strengthening [of] their presence in the eastern Mediterranean." It followed a collision in the Aegean Sea between Greek and Turkish frigates. The Turkish ship was one of five military ships escorting a gas-exploration vessel.
On Tuesday, Greek Defense Minister Mikolaos Panagiotopoulos spoke with French Defense Minister Florence Parly about the "defense cooperation between the two countries and matter pertaining to armament programs," the Greek Defense Ministry announced.