France is getting more deeply involved against Turkey’s eastern Mediterranean ambitions for expanded oil and gas exploration, reportedly sending fighter jets and a naval frigate near Cyprus in order to contest Turkey encroachment on EU members’ territorial waters.
Cypriot media has confirmed that so far two French Rafale fighter jets and a C-130H support plane have landed at a base on the island, with international media noting Paris is further deploying the naval frigate ‘Lafayette’ to the region.
President Emmanuel Macron announced via a Twitter statement Wednesday: “I have decided to temporarily reinforce the French military presence in the eastern Mediterranean in the coming days, in cooperation with European partners, including Greece.”
Earlier this week Turkey conducted its own military drills near Greek waters, off some of Greece’s easternmost islands, at a moment Erdogan confirmed the Oruc Reis seismic exploration ship had been dispatched with a military escort.
Macron had previously slammed Turkey’s expansionist claims, which mostly relies on interpreting waters around all of Cyprus as its own – given its claims over the so-called Turkish Republic of Cyprus – as an act of “unilateral” prospecting.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has hailed France’s military backing after long urging the EU to take more proactive action against Turkey’s energy exploration ambitions. “Emmanuel Macron is a true friend of Greece and a fervent defender of European values and international law,” Mitsotakis tweeted in French after a phone call with Macron.
The Greek prime minister also told the US ambassador that he rejects NATO’s “hands-off approach” to the growing crisis.
“I think within NATO it is very clear that this hands-off approach – that ‘oh we have two NATO partners so we’re not going to go into the details’ – is no longer going to be accepted by me. I raised this with Secretary-General [Jens] Stoltenberg that we’re a NATO contributor and an ally and…when we feel that a NATO ally is behaving in a way that endangers our interests, we cannot expect from NATO a similar approach of ‘we don’t want to interfere in your internal differences.’ This is profoundly unfair for Greece,” Mitsotakis said in Wednesday public comments.
Meanwhile on Thursday Greece and France are holding joint military drills near Crete.
It’s being widely interpreted as a clear “message” to Turkey of just how serious Macron is in backing Greece’s sovereignty over its territorial waters.