Turkey plays with fire in the eastern Mediterranean

Greek officials are on the warpath after the Turkish government reneged on its earlier promise to halt illegal energy exploration activities on the Greek continental shelf. Officials told New Europe that the situation went “from anticipation of an invitation … to a provocation” when Turkey issued a new NAVTEX that runs until October 22 for research vessels. Oruc Reis to carry out research activities in the country’s Greece Exclusive Economic Zone.

This new act of provocation, however, goes beyond any previous move by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as the northeast side of the territory included in NAVTEX is only 10.5 kilometers from the coast of Kastelorizo; The territorial waters of Greece extend 9.5 kilometers off the coast of the island. Under international law, Greece reserves the right to unilaterally extend its territorial waters from 9.5 to 19.3 kilometers. Turkey, however, has said that if Greece chooses to legally extend its territorial claims, the Turkish government would consider the move a casus belli and a justification for war.

In recent months, Turkey has dramatically increased tensions in the eastern Mediterranean with increasingly bellicose and provocative actions. In early October, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met with his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias in Bratislava and promised to set a date for the relaunch of so-called exploratory talks between the two countries on the delimitation of maritime zones.

Germany has been lobbying Turkey to make sure exploratory talks remain high on the Turkish government’s agenda. However, late on October 11, the Turkish authorities chose to rule out any appearance of wanting to find a peaceful compromise with the international community and issued a NAVTEX. This effectively brings things back to the boiling point that brought the entire eastern Mediterranean to the brink of a major crisis in late August and early September.

A Greek source told New Europe that the return to the status quo ante comes in far worse circumstances than in August.

Several key European players were completely baffled by Turkey’s sudden reversal. Even those who have taken a very moderate and pro-dialogue approach towards the Erdogan regime, including German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, criticized Turkey’s move as a “provocation” and described the Turkish government’s stance as a violation. total confidence and a measure made in bad faith. A

According to the New Europe information, German officials went to their Greek counterparts, shortly before the Ankara announcement, that Turkey was going to make a major move that could destabilize the situation. Officials who are familiar with the details of the meeting between Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Maas on October 13 told New Europe that Maas was extremely angry about Erdogan’s actions but was concerned about how Turkey would react and whether a stiffer response would advance or not. enrage the Turks.

Maas, however, canceled a scheduled trip to Ankara that was scheduled for October 14. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is, according to reports provided to New Europe, also deeply irritated by Erdogan’s latest provocation.

What is unclear at this time, and which keeps the eastern Mediterranean on a razor’s edge, is the fact that many of Europe’s key players seem to suffer from a lack of clarity on how to formulate a strategic plan to contain Turkey or who are genuinely paralyzed by their concerns about how Erdogan and his Islamist / ultranationalist allies in Turkey’s ruling system will respond if harsh countermeasures are employed to stop Turkey’s illegal activities.

The Turkish government seems unhappy with the framework of the exploratory talks and wants to radically expand the scope of the debate. Greece, as well as its powerful allies in the Eastern Mediterranean and the United States, do not recognize any other internationally accepted legal framework with Turkey other than the current delimitation of the continental shelf and the Exclusive Economic Zone.

A Greek Air Force F-16 fighter jet is seen during an air refueling exercise with a US KC-135 aircraft from the US air base in Chania, Crete. EPA-EFE // STEFANOS RAPANIS

What further complicates matters is the fact that Greece and its allies have roundly rejected Turkey’s demands that the Greek government completely demilitarize certain Greek islands. Many Western observers, as well as officials in Athens, now believe that Erdogan hopes to engineer an incident at sea that will give him an excuse with the Turkish public to create new tensions in the region with the aim of forcing a dialogue under new terms. .

An internationally mediated conflict resolution process could force the two countries into exhaustive discussions to avoid the battlefield. It is for this reason that a high-ranking Greek official told New Europe that despite the large Greek naval presence in the now focused area, the Hellenic Navy will benefit from staying calm and avoiding any kind of cheating that Erdogan hopes. . to configure.

Athens is also sending strong signals to Brussels that the EU can no longer be a neutral observer on the crisis, especially in light of Turkey’s most recent action. Reports from across the EU have indicated that some European leaders are finally beginning to tire of Erdogan’s continued attempts to provoke a conflict so close to the EU’s borders.

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