Struggling with a crushing economic crisis that has cut government spending across the board, Greece’s military is seeing itself unable to keep pace with rival Turkey in armaments and preparedness.
The cuts have meant that Greek pilots have not been able to be as effective in preventing Turkish fighters from violating Greek air space, and the Navy is limited in trying to follow Turkish vessels that come into Greek territorial waters. Turkey’s expanding military is the second largest in NATO.
“The military isn’t just bleeding — it’s boiling,” Hellenic Navy officer Yannis Katsaroulis said in an interview with Germany’s Deutsche Well. Officials acknowledged that the Greek military, with a $7.5 billion budget in 2012, could not maintain its assets amid deep budget cuts.
They said the Hellenic Air Force could no longer fly many of its F-16 multi-role fighters because of a lack of spare parts and maintenance. The Hellenic Navy has also been forced to restrict operations amid a fuel shortage. The Hellenic Army has been unable to receive 400 U.S.-origin Abrams main battle tanks because it couldn’t afford to transport them from the United States. Military personnel have seen a 37 percent cut in their salaries.
Katsaroulis said Greek military officers warned Defense Minister Panos Panagiotopoulos of growing unrest. They said the budget cuts, which reached nearly 30 percent since 2010, were pushing many of the officers to vote for right-wing parties and with many officers leaving.
“We recently met with the defense minister to voice our anger about the cuts and one of us, a brigadier, piped up and said that we are all dead set on voting for (the far right-wing) Golden Dawn in the next elections,” he said. Katsaroulis added: “Don’t be surprised if tanks roll out onto the street and a military rebellion occurs. Everything is possible at this point.”
Other officers agreed. They said Greece, which spends more on defense than another other European Union member, could no longer compete with Turkey, which routinely enters air space and waters claimed by Athens. “Just the other day, a Turkish battleship strayed twice in Greek waters, and what did we do?” Yiorgos Glitsis, a retired submarine officer, recalled. “We chased it halfway through the Aegean with a ship half its size, like a dinghy.”