JOurism is crucial for Greece.
It accounts for almost 20% of Greece’s gross domestic product and employs almost a million people in a country of just over 10 million people. COVID-19 devastated the industry, but Athens was optimistic tourism would rebound this year. Then came Ukraine. While the European Union accounts for most tourists visiting Greece to sunbathe on its beaches, browse its shops or explore its ancient ruins, Russians have traditionally not been far behind. In the first 11 months of 2021, Russian visitors to Greece increased by 350% compared to the previous year, contributing more than $115 million to the local economy. It’s less than ten years since Greece went through a devastating financial crisis: in 2011, Greece’s real gross domestic product fell by more than 10%, whereas ten years ago it had contracted again by 7%.
Under such circumstances, it might be tempting for Athens to seek to profit from the Ukrainian crisis, but Greece is now a democracy. Greeks of all persuasions turned their backs on populism, condemning Golden Dawn hatred to oblivion. Greek leaders from all political walks of life have recognized that what the Ukraine crisis represents is not an opportunity to seek advantage, but rather a struggle to preserve the liberal post-World War II order. By maintaining EU sanctions, Athens has drawn the wrath of Moscow. Almost overnight, the flow of Russian tourists stopped.
Compare that with Turkey.
While Turkey and its regime’s enablers in Washington continue to assert that it is an undervalued ally and essential member of NATO, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky disagrees. When the pressure mounted in the current crisis, Ankara put profit above principle. Take Turkish Airlines, a partnership between the Turkish state and private investors close to President Tayyip Erdogan. As Russian tourists stopped flying to Greece, Turkish Airlines sought to pick up the slack and divert Russia’s lucrative tourist trade to Turkey. On April 11, Turkish Airlines – with the facilitation of the Turkish Ministries of Culture, Transport and Finance – signed an agreement to bring 1.5 million Russian tourists to Turkey this year. As Western airlines stop flying to Moscow and other Russian destinations, Turkish Airlines and its affiliated low-cost carriers will expand their routes. The Turkish government and Turkish Airlines will subsidize Russian tour operators with a $300 million loan.
This is not the first time that Erdogan has used Turkish Airlines to profit at the expense of the West. In 2014, a leaked recording of a phone conversation between an adviser to Erdogan and the private secretary to the CEO of Turkish Airlines suggested that Turkey was using its flagship carrier to smuggle weapons to the militant Islamist group Boko Haram.
In November 2021, Iraqi Kurds gathered at the Belarus-Poland border, seeking to cross into Europe, with several of them freezing to death as winter snows began to fall. They may have crossed Turkey in the back of trucks, but to reach Belarus, the migrants flew with Turkish Airlines. The crisis only dissipated when an EU official warned Erdogan that Turkey’s continued weaponization of the refugee stream would lead to a blanket ban on Turkish Airlines in Europe.
Therein lies the solution. Turkey puts money above principle but fears action against Turkish Airlines. Erdogan recently inaugurated a new multibillion-dollar airport in Istanbul to serve as the carrier’s hub, and Turkish officials regularly brag about the prestige the airline brings and its reach. While it is useful to tighten the noose on Russian finances, it is also necessary to signal zero tolerance towards Turkey, which seeks to take advantage of the sanctions and the broken embargo as it has done previously. regarding Iran’s nuclear sanctions.
If Washington and Brussels really care about Ukraine, then it’s a no-brainer to deny Turkish Airlines landing and refueling rights in the West as long as its new agreements with Russia remain in place. Enough is enough. If Athens can make tough decisions, so can Ankara. It is time for Turkey to choose sides.
Michael Rubin (@mrubin1971) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner Confidential Beltway. He is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.