Greece declined S-300 for Ukraine, but sent a Patriot to Saudi

The Greek newspaper, Ekathimerini, has reported that there is increasing pressure on Athens to contribute air defense systems to Ukraine. While this might not be brand new information, the intensity of the pressure is now more severe than ever. Reports from EurAsia Times suggest that Germany is the primary instigator of this pressure. Meanwhile, Ekathimerini has indicated that Greece’s S-300 air defense system may well be en route to Ukraine. 

Greece declined S-300 for Ukraine, but sent a Patriot to Saudi
Photo credit: Greek MoD

About a week ago, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky found himself on the receiving end of two denials. Both Madrid and Athens turned down the possibility of providing Ukraine’s armed forces with air defense systems. Spain showed some flexibility by agreeing to send interceptors to reinforce the Patriot systems already functioning in Ukraine. Conversely, Greece’s response was an outright denial, voiced by Pavlos Marinakis, the representative of Greece’s Cabinet of Ministers. His statement was clear: “I firmly conveyed our stance: we will not undertake any actions that would risk our nation’s deterrent capability or the defense of our airspace”.

In response to the proposed transfer of Greece’s air defense systems – the Patriot and the Russian-made S-300s – to shield Ukraine from Russian airstrikes, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis dismissed such requests. This stance mirrors the one projected by Marinakis earlier. 

Greece has Soviet S-300, but will not be sanctioned, the US said
Photo credit: AFP

Greece has so far sidestepped demands for increased support, placing its national security requirements as the primary concern. On this matter, Mitsotakis has previously articulated, “We’ve been approached and we’ve clarified the reasons for our inability to comply,” underscoring that these deployments play a “vital role in our defense and deterrence strategy.”

The Greek Government’s decision not to actively participate in Ukraine’s military safeguarding has sparked skepticism among various circles of political and military analysts, including those within Greece. George Monastiriakos, an adjunct law professor at the University of Ottawa, is one such observer who has questioned this rationale. 

There’s an intriguing incident from 2021 worth recalling. Greece provided a Patriot system to Saudi Arabia during a turbulent period. At that time, Saudi Arabia was regularly targeted by missile and drone strikes, predominantly aimed at their oil refineries, carried out by the Yemeni Houthis.

You likely remember that Saudi Arabia and the Yemeni Houthis were embroiled in a grueling war. Both sides reported numerous setbacks. Houthi strongholds in Yemen underwent heavy assault, as did the energy infrastructure of Saudi Arabia. Yet, as swiftly as this conflict flared up, it likewise concluded.  

The specific timing and year of Greece’s dispatch of the Patriot to the Middle East holds particular significance. This was the year when Turkish-Greek relations had reached a critical tipping point. Today, we can hardly recall the “encounters” in the Aegean Sea and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s threats to inundate Greece with migrants from that time in 2021. Ultimately, tensions in the region were mitigated by the U.S., who permitted Turkey to secure the F-16, on the condition that it would abstain from engaging in hostilities with Greece.

The reasoning behind the decision not to forward the S-300 or Patriot to Ukraine becomes somewhat clearer when we consider the relationships between neighboring countries in the Balkans. However, it throws up an intriguing question: Why did Athens decide to send the Patriot to Saudi Arabia during the peak of “Turkish aggression,” yet now, when the “Turkish deluge” has passed, the Greek government remains hesitant to do the same for Ukraine? 

Let’s not forget, that an anti-aircraft system is a vital part of a nation’s defense strategy – this is true for both Greece and Ukraine. Mitsotakis, no doubt consulting his military advisers, understood the defensive value of this weaponry. Yet, the real-world applications seem to contradict this logic.

Patriot destroyed missile using target designation provided by F-35
Photo by US Air Force photo/ Airman 1st Class Debbie Lockhart

Now, let’s fast-forward to the current state of affairs in these regions. The Houthis in Yemen are striving to control the trade routes of the Red Sea. Currently, though, Saudi Arabia is receiving significant support from the naval forces of Germany, the UK, France, and the USA. Unquestionably, this coalition possesses a considerable ability to curb “piracy terrorism”

Israel, Gaza, and Iran represent a regional conflict likely to persist into our grandchildren’s era. A resolution seems overwhelming, yet from the perspective of the US-aligned Israel, Tel Aviv can handle the conflict. They possess the weaponry, the systems, and the intelligence. Furthermore, Israel is even planning to retire its four Patriot PAC-2 units.

While the aforementioned situations can be classified as conflicts, what’s happening in Ukraine is a completely different scenario. It’s a battleground, representing a stark contrast to the conditions in the Middle East or the Red Sea. Moreover, it’s a significant departure from 2021, when threats were exchanged between Ankara and Athens. 

US is sending Ukraine its own Cold War-bought Soviet SAM systems
Photo credit: TASS

George Monastiriakos, through his contributions to Greek media, emphasizes that the scenarios seen in 2024 can’t be compared to Russia’s unlawful and aggressive war on Ukraine. In clear terms, the skirmish between Greece and Turkey poses a threat, the friction between Houthi and Saudi Arabia is a dormant conflict, whereas the Ukraine versus Russia situation is an ongoing war with the potential to escalate drastically. Despite some commonalities, categorizing these three situations in the same bracket is intellectually oversimplified and borders on dishonesty.

Currently, air defense systems play a pivotal role in safeguarding Ukrainian lives and preserving Ukraine’s infrastructure. In doing so, they limit both the devastation inflicted by Russia and the total expenditure the West will ultimately bear to restore the nation post-conflict. For Kyiv to withhold air defense is considered both morally reprehensible and ruthlessly tactless. Greece can assist Ukraine in fortifying its skies. “So why not help?” asks Monastiriakos.

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