Two Greek soldiers, Aggelos Mitretodis and Dimitris Kouklatzis, have been released from Turkish prison where they had been detained since March on spying charges.
After searching their phones and their belongings, the Turkish courts decided that they had not been engaged in a spying operation against Turkey.
Their release has been hailed by all parties in Greece. On Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said: “The release of the two Greek officers is an act of justice which will contribute to friendship, good neighborly relations and stability in the region.”
Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, who welcomed the two soldiers at the Thessaloniki airport, said the event “will mark a new chapter for the Greek-Turkish relations” which have been very tense for several months following the refusal of the Greek government to extradite Turkish officers suspected of having participated in the failed coup in Turkey in July 2016.
Last December, during a historic visit to Greece, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan deeply shocked Athens by questioning the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which sets the boundaries between Greece and Turkey. Since then, intimidation has continued and Turkish violations of Greek airspace are becoming more frequent. “I hope that their release … will herald a new day in Greek-Turkish relations. We can live together peacefully, for the benefit of both our peoples,” said Panos Kammenos.
The release of the two soldiers comes as Ankara and Washington are at loggerheads. Turkey refuses to release American pastor Andrew Brunson, accused of “terrorism” and “espionage” by the Turkish government. The United States has taken several sanctions against Turkey in retaliation.
Donald Trump has notably announced the doubling of import taxes on Turkish steel and aluminum, even as the Turkish lira is bottoming out and an economic crisis is threatening the country.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who had been consulted by Athens on the subject, welcomed their release on Twitter: “Turkey has nothing to fear from its European neighbors. The European Union will continue its strategic relationship with Turkey,” while hoping to see” a democratic, stable and prosperous state.”