The multibillion-dollar pact comes as a relief to France after the Aukus fallout and against the backdrop of shaky relations with Turkey. Athens, Greece – Greece has announced a deal to buy between six and eight French-built warships accompanied by a strategic defence partnership with France, a move the Greek prime minister said was “a first step towards European defence autonomy”. Standing next to French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace, Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Tuesday: “We have a common vision of an autonomous response capability to the challenges Europe faces.” The $5bn deal will provide Athens with three state-of-the-art Belharra frigates and three Gowind corvettes, with an option for one more of each. According to local reports, the ships would be delivered by 2026, with the first frigate arriving as early as 2024. France’s Naval Group and US defence contractor Lockheed Martin had been locked in heated competition for the contract since Mitsotakis announced Greece would buy new frigates in September 2019. For Macron, it was a much-needed win after Australia reneged on a $66bn-deal to buy French diesel submarines earlier this month, announcing its intention to build nuclear submarines using US-supplied technology instead under the Aukus deal, a trilateral security treaty between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Macron stressed that the Greek deal reinforced his vision of European strategic autonomy. “We have a commitment to the independence of Europe,” he said. “This is part of the common struggles we have undertaken in Europe – technological independence, a European defence, and combat-readiness.” Both leaders mentioned the Sahel, Middle East, Mediterranean and Balkans as areas of European interest where joint military action could take place. Greece and France have been drawing closer in recent years, against the backdrop of their deteriorating relations with Turkey. Last year, Greece and Turkey came to the brink of war when Ankara sent survey ships to look for undersea oil and gas in what Greece considers its maritime jurisdiction. France sent naval forces to help Greece’s ageing fleet of 11 frigates patrol its maritime zones and the two countries have since held joint and multilateral air and sea exercises in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean. Last year, Greece announced it was buying 18 fourth-generation Rafale fighter jets for $2.5bn. Mitsotakis raised the number of jets to 24 this month. “It’s not a simple arms sale. It’s a strategic deal that changes the situation in the east Mediterranean,” international relations professor Dimitris Kairidis said of the naval deal. “France is filling a security void in the region. There is a mutual defence agreement, so if we face troubles we have a nuclear power and permanent Security Council member in our corner.” The crisis of 2020 came on the heels of Greece’s greatest ever economic recession following the post-2008 global financial collapse. Greece slashed its defence expenditures by half. “There were no purchases of spare parts, there were operational problems, there were frigates that couldn’t sail and planes that couldn’t fly,” international relations professor at the American College of Greece Konstantinos Filis told Al Jazeera. This handout image received from French Naval defence and energy group DCNS on October 18, 2016, shows an artist’s impression of a proposed new-generation 4000-tonne digital frigate called the Belharra [File: Ho/DCNS/AFP] In 2018, Greece signed a $1.3bn deal with the US’s Lockheed Martin to upgrade 85 of its F-16 fighter jets to Viper level, installin . . . read the full article here.