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The port of Alexandroupoli could be turned into a “second Souda” (n. ed. the military base on the island of Crete used by American forces), acquiring a strategic character in the calculations and estimates of the American armed forces.
In the navigable context, in the last almost seven months since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the bypass route through the port of Alexandroupoli has proven to be a reliable alternative to the Bosphorus Strait, which is currently closed to warships. This was proven by the thousands of troops, tanks, helicopters and other military equipment of the US and other NATO states that were quickly and efficiently transferred to the eastern flank of NATO – from Bulgaria and Romania to Poland – through this previously unknown port then the great majority of the allies.
In the context of the modernization of Alexandroupoli port capacities, the Americans have already proposed to Athens, through various channels, but mainly through high military officials, the additional dredging of the port and its expansion, possibly even the creation of a new berth, according to kathimerini.gr
The goal – according to the information, is at a first stage to be able to dock and be serviced by the port destroyers of the size and capabilities of the US Navy’s “Arleigh Burke” class. These destroyers are the spearhead of the US Navy, as they carry guided missiles and have significantly increased electronic warfare (including jamming) capabilities.
Destroyers of this size are already served by the military base at Souda in Crete, but the discussions regarding the expansion and dredging of the port of Alexandroupoli, on the other side of the Aegean Sea, beyond their purely operational nature, i.e. the creation of infrastructure in an area very close to The Black Sea and NATO’s eastern flank show the US intention to create a Balkan infrastructure network, which will start from the Aegean Sea and reach Romania, and from there to Hungary and Poland. In this context, the possibilities of a reliable connection between Alexandroupoli and the Balkan area by means of the railway, as well as the strengthening of the existing infrastructure, such as military pipelines for the transport of fuel, are also being discussed. This military infrastructure system in northern Greece also includes the Port of Kavala, which has already been assigned to a group of companies with American capital.
In the context of defense, sources familiar with the discussions that took place in the previous period emphasized that if the port of Alexandroupoli acquires the capacity to serve American destroyers, in the long term the possibility of temporarily hosting even larger combat units should not be excluded. But everything will depend on the speed with which the privatization procedures of Alexandroupoli port will be carried out.
But US involvement is not limited to Alexandroupoli. In recent months, the presence of US military forces at the Souda base has also grown exponentially. In addition to the constant presence of naval and air units at the Souda base, there is ongoing discussion about upgrading the infrastructure so that it can accommodate increasingly advanced systems. Whether it’s high-capability UAVs or fifth-generation aircraft like the F-35, the Americans seem eager to turn the Souda base into a hub to serve an array of armed forces, both at the air level , as well as naval. The transfer to Souda of some equipment that until now was permanently stationed at other bases inside or outside Europe indicates this trend. The multi-year enhanced Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement (MDCA) between Greece and the US acts as a framework that allows for faster adoption processes in Congress, but also the allocation of greater US funds for the strengthening of infrastructure and military bases.
In addition, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has increased NATO and US maritime sector surveillance needs. Our newspaper revealed that in 2020 Congress approved funds for the installation of a high-precision surface radar (Maritime Awareness Domain) throughout the Aegean Sea. This project has finally been started and is progressing at a fast pace, increasing the possibility of monitoring movements on the surface of the Aegean Sea for both NATO and the Hellenic Armed Forces. The Americans want better monitoring of the Aegean Sea to have a clearer operational picture of the movements of Russian naval units that remain active throughout the Eastern Mediterranean.
It is observed, therefore, that this imaginary arc that starts from Alexandroupoli, crosses the Aegean Sea and reaches Crete is seen by the Americans as a unitary operational space in which they want to strengthen their presence not only through the deployed forces, but also through the development of the infrastructure . Added to this is the US presence at Larissa Air Base, which has essentially been rebuilt to be able to serve UAVs and tanker aircraft in a timely and long-term manner.
It is obvious that beyond the operational dimension that the strengthening of the American presence in Alexandroupoli and Souda has, there is also an enormous political significance. In essence, it represents a mobilization that at the level of the alliance is perceived as an attempt by Washington to protect itself from the prevailing instability in this region in a broad sense.
In the immediate aftermath of Turkey’s coup attempt and the openly hostile treatment of US forces at the crucial Incirlik base, low-profile but significant discussions began in Washington about the role of Recep Tayyip’s Ankara Erdogan within NATO. This geopolitical dimension of the strengthening of the American presence in Greece does not go unnoticed in Ankara, from where in recent months messages of growing irritation about the alleged instrumentalization of Athens in the West’s plan to “weaken” Turkey have been transmitted almost in unison.