The government of Greece has announced that it is extending a bilateral military base deal signed with the United States for another five years.

The agreement, which is scheduled to be ratified by the Greek parliament this week, will extend the access of the US military to three military bases on the Greek mainland and maintain its naval presence on the island of Crete, strategically located in the Mediterranean Sea.

The extension saw support from the country’s center-right administration, which argued that bolstering coordination with NATO would help provide stability to a region rattled by the Russo-Ukrainian war.

US military bases in Greece, especially in Souda, Crete, are the key fixtures in American presence in the region. The United States Naval Support Activity (NSA) Souda Bay provides crucial operational support for not only US forces but also its allies within the US Central Command, US Africa Command, and US European Command.

Souda Bay, thanks to its location, delivers vital logistical services and support to the US and allied sea vessels and aircraft that are passing through or operating within the eastern Mediterranean. The base at Souda alone houses around 750 military and civilian personnel, which includes combat-ready units and detachments.

Sailors heave in line as the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mitscher (DDG 57) prepares to depart Souda Bay, Greece, March 24, 2021. Mitscher is operating with the IKE Carrier Strike Group on a routine deployment in the U.S. Sixth Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national interests and security in Europe and Africa. (DVIDS, U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kaleb J. Sarten/Released)

Experts believed that if things were to escalate in Ukraine, which it did, the US would double down on its efforts to ensure its foothold in the Mediterranean and increase military deployment in the area.

“We discussed how the US and Greece can work together to strengthen our remarkable alliance promoting security and prosperity, building on our fantastic momentum,” wrote U.S. Ambassador George J. Tsunis in a tweet.

The US ambassador recently met with the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis ahead of his trip to Washington to meet with President Joe Biden at the White House.

Expanding ties with their allies, Athens also signed a bilateral defense agreement with Paris last year in the aftermath of a tense naval standoff with Turkey in 2020. Although both members of NATO, Greece and Turkey are tied in an old dispute regarding sea borders and mineral rights in the east Mediterranean.

“We don’t have the luxury to be careless. We don’t have it. I wish we were Luxembourg on national security issues. But we are not,” Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said in an address to the Greek parliament. He noted that defense agreements such as the ones with France and the U.S. are a pivotal part of the country’s defense strategy.

The extension drew criticism from the country’s primary opposition party, the left-leaning Syriza. They argue that the deal did not provide Athens with enough security guarantees for what the country is giving to the United States.

Intel Gathering In Ukraine

The Souda Bay base was reportedly used to gather intelligence over eastern Ukraine during the build-up to the Russian invasion.

Government affairs and political risk specialist John Sitilides said that the American aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman was at Crete in late December “to maintain maritime stability and security, and defend the U.S., allied and partner interests in Europe and Africa.”

“Using open-source geospatial mapping data and flight-tracking software, we observed RC-135V reconnaissance aircraft flying from Souda Bay to conduct intelligence-gathering missions over eastern Ukraine, approaching to within fifty miles of territory occupied by Russian-backed forces in the Donbas region,” Sitilides explained on how the base at Souda was used to gather information on Ukraine.

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) sails out of Souda harbor in Crete, Greece, following a four-day port visit to Greece's largest island, 2004 (U.S. Navy photo by Paul Farley. (RELEASED), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons). Source:
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) sails out of Souda harbor in Crete, Greece, following a four-day port visit to Greece’s largest island, 2004 (U.S. Navy photo by Paul Farley. (RELEASED), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

He added that a similar intel-gathering operation was conducted at the base in February and at the border between Ukraine and Belarus.

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“We have also observed EP-3 electronic signal intelligence missions flown out of Souda Bay to over the Black Sea, in position to monitor Russian Navy vessels, including six amphibious landing ships that arrived in early February, as well as to assess wider Russian military activities in Crimea.”

He also noted that US deployments in Souda conduct monitoring operations on Russian movements in Syria and its private military contractors in Libya. When asked if the significance of the US bases in Greece would put the country in danger of becoming Russian targets, Sitilides answered that it would only come in the “most extreme” scenario.

“Only in a most extremely unlikely scenario, as Greece is a member of the NATO alliance, which would respond forcefully to any Russian attack on Greece or any other member of the alliance,” the analyst said.

However, Sitilides mentioned that Vladimir Putin has attempted to sway public opinion to side with Moscow in the Ukraine standoff. He said that the Kremlin had launched a massive disinformation campaign in Greece to weaken the country’s resolve.

“Even as one doubts that Russia would militarily attack Greece proper or any of its bases, it is naïve to underestimate Putin’s skill at exploiting and exacerbating his adversaries’ perceived political and diplomatic weaknesses and vulnerabilities,” he added.