Greece and France signed a € 2.5 billion warplane agreement on Monday as part of a plan to upgrade Greece’s armed forces in response to Turkish challenges in the eastern Mediterranean.
In the deal, Greece will buy 18 Rafale jets, 12 of which are used, manufactured by the French company Dassault to strengthen its forces during their regular air battles with Turkish pilots over the disputed Aegean airspace.
It comes when the longtime regional rivals start a round of exploratory talks about their conflicting interests in the Mediterranean, their first in almost five years.
A spokesman for the Greek government insisted the talks were “non-negotiable” and “non-binding”.
France has strongly supported Greece in its departure from Turkey due to natural gas resources and marine influence in the waters off their respective coasts.
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The warplane agreement “sends a clear message in several directions,” said Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos as he oversaw a signing ceremony with French counterpart Florence Parly in Athens.
Greek government spokesman Christos Tarantilis said delivery of the first six planes would begin in July.
A group of Greek air force pilots and technicians will travel to France for training in the next few days, he added.
Greece to strengthen forces
In September, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced a “robust” upgrade of the country’s armed forces.
The program, Greece’s most ambitious in decades, includes four versatile frigates, four naval helicopters, anti – tank weapons, naval torpedoes, air force missiles and 15,000 additional troops by 2025.
During his visit on Monday, Parly said France would soon present “proposals to renew Greece’s fleet of frigates”.
In August, Turkey sent an exploration vessel and a small fleet to conduct seismic research in waters that Greece considers to be its own under the pre-war treaties.
Greece responded by shadowing the Turkish flotilla with its warships and by conducting naval exercises with several EU allies and the United Arab Emirates.
Unlike other EU and NATO allies, France strongly supported Greece in the deal with Turkey.
( Jowharwith AFP, REUTERS)