Swap: 40 F-35s cost as much as four Soviet S-300 air defenses

The U.S. government has recently approved a hefty deal—an $8.6 billion sale of 40 F-35 fighter jets to Greece. In addition to this, another $200 million in foreign military aid will be directed to this Mediterranean country. This report was revealed by the Greek media outlet, Kathimerini. 

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Photo by Lance cpl. Jose S.Guerrero Deleon

A certain compromise stands at the core of this situation, as highlighted by Kathimerini. To receive this financial enhancement, Greece is expected to supply its outdated Russian air defense systems and ammunition to Ukraine—a request that has originated directly from the quarters of the White House. 

The duty of carrying the White House’s demand was entrusted to the U.S. Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken. He passed on this message to the Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, on January 26. Mitsotakis was informed that these systems would either need to be purchased or donated to Ukraine. 

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So, Athens opted to transfer to Kyiv those old systems and equipment that the Greek army no longer required. These included the Tor, Osa, S-300 anti-aircraft systems, and ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft systems, which they no longer actively utilize, as well as a vast stockpile of ammunition for this military equipment. For clarity, these systems all have three major characteristics in common—they are all defensive, outdated, and of Russian origin.

“Escape from Congress”

Rumors are circulating in both American and Greek media circles that US President Joe Biden might move towards a more comprehensive solution known as the “Athens formula”. This concept emerged following the blockage of a $61 billion military aid package to Ukraine by congressional Republicans. Under this arrangement, Washington would offer excess military gear to Athens, which would, in turn, gift its unutilized military equipment to Kyiv. 

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As per indications from the American press, if Ukraine’s aid remains deadlocked in Congress, this ‘quid pro quo’ approach won’t stop at Greece. It’s suggested that Washington might extend similar requests to other countries. With Biden expected to petition for a hefty $14 billion for Israel in Congress, a cause likely to face its own hurdles, curiosity is piqued as to whether the White House will devise comparable solutions to facilitate arms transfers to Israel.

Donation, not sale

Revisiting the so-called “Athens formula”, the terms of the accord encompass a generous donation from Washington to the tune of $200 million in military funds. Additionally, Greece will receive surplus military equipment from the US, inclusive of three Protector-class patrol boats that span 23 meters, a pair of Lockheed Martin C-130H transport aircraft, ten Allison T56 turboprop engines that power Lockheed P-3 patrol planes, not to mention the 60 M-2 Bradley combat vehicles and transportation trucks. 

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In reciprocation of these benefits, Greece has conceded to specific terms and halted the selling of its outmoded defense systems to Ukraine. Instead, Greece will gladly donate these artifacts. Reports from Kathimerini, a renowned Greek newspaper, reveal that orders to proceed have already been dispatched to the Greek military and the delivery operations have likely begun by now. 

Unsurprisingly, the agreement caught the attention of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who expressed his thoughts on the matter. Lavrov has called out Western powers for encouraging countries to send Russian military provisions to Ukraine, circumventing the need for approval from Moscow. Emphasizing the significance of respecting existing agreements during his statements, he reminded everyone of the pre-existing accords. These stipulate that an arms purchaser should not re-sell or distribute these items without obtaining prior consent from the seller. Lavrov suggested that unauthorized arms transactions could potentially put strains on international relationships.

The hug

As pointed out by Andrew Korybko, an authority on international relations and an American citizen born in Russia, it appears that the US is transforming Greece into a long-term dependent state. However, this reality seems to be either overlooked by Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis, or he’s indifferent to it because it aligns with his agenda. 

In an article initially published on his personal website, Korybko expands on why Athens is responding in this manner. This is largely linked to Russia expanding its ties with Turkey at an exponential rate. In a bid to not fall behind in these developments, Greece has fully embraced the support of the U.S.

The “autonomy” of Turkey

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It’s widely recognized that Athens aligns itself with the West’s sanction policy on Moscow. As expert Korybko points out, it also proceeded to sign a pact with Washington for defense collaboration in May 2022. Unsurprisingly, the ties between Moscow and Athens strained following this development. 

As American authorities suggest, despite sending Bayraktar unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs] to Kyiv and voting against Russia at the UN General Assembly [UNGA], Ankara still emerges as a more dependable military ally for Russia than Greece. 

Given its global legal obligations, Turkey has kept the straits closed to non-local NATO forces. It said “no” to sanctions imposed on Russia by its so-called allies. According to Korybko, Ankara “never even entertained the thought of supplying Kyiv with Russian-origin military equipment, such as the S-400 air defense systems.” 

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Our US analyst states that Turkey’s political positioning leading up to and during the Russo-Ukrainian conflict “consecutively bolstered Ankara’s strategic independence amidst the evolving Cold War”, while “Greece willingly submitted to becoming one of the primary US puppets in the region.” 

Further, when examining the varied reactions of Ankara and Athens towards Moscow, Korybko noted that the US is funneling military supplies to Ukraine. He pointed out that Greece is a crucial checkpoint on the “Moldovan highway”, a major transport route for these provisions. However, Turkey refrains from assisting in the transportation of American military gear to Ukraine.

Vassality

Unsettled disagreements in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean along with the warming relations between Ankara and Moscow, Greece is feeling the pressure plunge into a state of “vassalage,” explains Korybko.  

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According to the expert, the Greek government’s perspective is focused on leveraging military-strategic dynamics that extend beyond their own capacity. Hence, Korybko elaborates, “Greece believes it can counterbalance Turkey through the US.” To achieve this equilibrium, they are willing to “bend to anti-Russian demands from their new masters.” 

Korybko perceives Athens’ policy as an attempt to achieve balance, which in some aspects, seems plausible. However, handing over Russian weapons to Kyiv without Moscow’s approval exposes an entirely different narrative. He argues that “Greece is overstepping in this regard.” By choosing these “premature actions,” Athens is jeopardizing its relationship with Moscow, Korybko warns, hinting that rebuilding this trust “may prove almost impossible.”  

In the meantime, Korybko details an emerging scenario where despite stable Russian-Turkish relations and strained American-Turkish relationships, it’s unlikely for “Washington to sideline Athens in favor of Ankara as their primary regional ally.”

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