Greece will this summer lease two state-of-the-art French warships, the defense ministry said Friday, as Athens seeks to bolster its defenses in the Aegean Sea amid growing tensions with Turkey.
Confirming a report by the daily Kathimerini, Greece’s deputy defense minister, Fotis Kouvelis, told Skai radio that France “has made two frigates available to us in a leasing agreement.”
The deal was finalized in a telephone call between Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and French President Emmanuel Macron, Kouvelis said.
According to the daily Kathimerini, Greece will lease two French FREMM-type frigates for a period of five years, with the vessels expected to be inducted into the Greek Navy by August.
Kouvelis also hinted that two other vessels could be procured in the future, Janes reported.
There is much speculation that the FREMM deal is an interim solution until Greece formally agrees on procurement of Gowind or Belharra class vessels after the FREMM leasing agreement ends.
Kathimerini reported that Greece will take delivery of its first Belharra frigate at the end of the five-year lease.
The acquisition of the two frigates – probably the Languedoc and the Aquitaine – was part of efforts to boost the country’s military capabilities at a time of rising tensions with Turkey, the newspaper said, adding that the frigates will be equipped with high-accuracy anti-aircraft systems.
FREMM – European multi-mission frigate – was designed for the French and Italian navies. Aquitaine, the lead ship of the class, was commissioned in November 2012, and the class is known in France as Aquitaine.
According to Kathimerini, France also committed to supply Exocet anti-ship missiles to Greece.
In the meantime, speaking on Friday afternoon, French Defence Minister Florence Parly said that the news “is not relevant, although of course we are at the disposal of our Greek friends to continue working even more closely.”
A Greek defense ministry source expressed surprise at Parly’s comments, insisting that Tsipras had given the go-ahead on Thursday evening for Kouvelis to talk about the deal.
Recent months have seen a sharp spike in tensions between Athens and Ankara, with Greece determined to protect its sovereign rights in the Aegean Sea where the two sides have a series of longstanding territorial disputes.
On April 12, a Greek air force pilot was killed when his fighter jet crashed in the Aegean sea after an interception of a Turkish jet near Skyros, and two days earlier, Greek soldiers fired warning shots at a Turkish helicopter after it approached the small island of Ro in the Aegean sea.
With reporting from AFP